The Tony Cozier I knew
CRICKET WILL NEVER BE THE SAME again without Tony Cozier.
The man with the voice . . . I was going to say like honey, but it was like fine, aged rum, never jarring, ever mellow and entertaining.
I stayed up all hours of the night and into early morning in the late 1960s and 1970s to hear that voice recounting the exploits of our West Indian warriors Down Under, a long, long way from home, and Tony Cozier was our only connection in those days before live television, Internet and mobile phones.
And when he was finished his stint behind the radio microphone, he would sit down to craft the most incisive report on the day’s play for a host of newspapers, from Fleet Street to Bridgetown to Independence Square in Port of Spain.
Tony Cozier was the passionate yet impartial recorder of all things good and bad in West Indies cricket – and thank God he was also around for the great times.
The BBC played a clip that so sad last week Wednesday of Cozier commentating at the end of the fifth Test of the 1984 series against England, at Kennington Oval in London. The West Indies had completed a 5-0 whitewash/blackwash – call it what you want – of the hosts, the people who brought cricket to these islands and territories which TC represented so well for more than half a century.
Cozier told us that it was the first time England had ever lost all five Tests to the Windies on home soil, then looked off to the boundary to see the visitors’ fans coming on to the ground to acclaim their heroes. And he never wavered from the same rhythmic lilt, informing us what was happening on that historic occasion without rubbing it in anyone’s face.
He was there, on the spot, so we are forever blessed with those lucid memories of those triumphant times . . . and it’s very hard to accept that he was taken too soon.
I first met Tony Cozier in the production room at Corbin-Compton advertising agency, on Stanmore Avenue just outside Port of Spain, my cub reporter’s introduction to a man who was already a West Indian icon.
It was 1979 and he was putting the finishing touches to his radio series marking 50 years of West Indies Test cricket, sponsored by a cigarette brand that was one of Corbin’s clients.
I was 21 years old in my first and only year in the advertising business as a not-very-good copywriter, and shadow sportswriter, so I was in the right place for the dream assignment of interviewing Cozier for a now defunct weekly newspaper.
He spoke about the teeming streets of India as compared to the quiet domains of New Zealand, and all the other places in between over the previous 20 years, wherever the Windies put bat on ball and vice versa.
That day I learned that Tony went to school at my alma mater, Fatima College, while his father, a newspaper editor, worked in Trinidad in the 1950s.
He was the observer par excellence who loved calypso and was the easiest interview you could ever ask for.
So it bothered me when some Trinis gave Tony a hard time one day at the Queen’s Park Oval in their defence of Phil Simmons. To me, Tony was “West Indies and Barbados”, in that order. He had no axe to grind or any hidden agendas, maybe except that Sir Garfield Sobers was his idol.
After that, I would go and give him a hail-out at the end of play on my way out of the Oval, when the press box was alongside the members’ pavilion, and he would be there eating an ice lolly and buying one for a colleague before heading behind the typewriter. I would offer him my best cliched line on Clive Lloyd, trying to get Cozier Publishing to hire me to write an article for his cricket annual.
I never got the job, but he would always acknowledge me and have a chat before he got down to work.
Almost 20 years after our initial encounter, I was at the Garrison Savannah in Barbados for the Gold Cup and I heard someone calling “Marlon” from the grandstand . . . and there was Tony.
He was still recovering from a medical problem which had forced him back home from a cricket ground halfway around the world. He had lost weight and was rather gaunt, but he was the same old Tony, bright-eyed and cheery-faced, and I wished I had stayed longer in his company.
He rallied after that, having moved into the television booth without missing a beat, where he was a fixture at arenas around the globe, for the tense hours and days of a Test match, to the slam, bang, wallop of a T20.
We chatted on the phone every now and again over his many years as a Sunday Express columnist, and the last time I spoke to Tony Cozier was in 2015, when my friend Douglas Bennett was in Barbados and called me for results of a horse race at Santa Rosa Park.
Then he put Tony on the line. They were at some lime with a lot of noise and music and I could hardly hear what he was saying, but I remember I told him, “It’s good talking to you, Tony.”
And that’s what everyone would have said to Winston Anthony Lloyd Cozier, one of the good guys and the ultimate professional.
Sharing whatever time with him was an honour and a privilege that I will always cherish.
Rest in peace, Tony.
Marlon Miller is a former Sports Editor at the Trinidad Express.