RIP-Tony-Cozier
Tony Cozier was a renowned West Indies commentator and writer since 1958 © Getty Images

Tony Cozier was to West Indies cricket was John Arlott was for England or Richie Benaud for Australia. For years, over half a century (since 1958, to be precise), Cozier’s voice was synonymous to West Indian cricket; but Cozier’s legacy lies beyond the Caribbean, for few matched his poise and his balance behind the microphone. With Cozier we, the audience across the world, knew that one of cricket’s most erudite, most articulate voices was behind the microphone. There was a reason Ian Wooldridge called him “a Barbadian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket”. READ: Tony Cozier passes away age 75

But there was more to Cozier than all that. Growing up in the 1980s, I was forever confused at the concept of a white man possessing such enormous knowledge of the sport in a country that, in the 1980s, consisted entirely of black men.

With age, with access to cricket history and literature, I got to know. And I grew up with Benaud and Cozier in the 1990s. But there was a difference: while Benaud could afford the luxury of remaining composed in victories, Cozier had to curb his anguish and despair to maintain neutrality — that near-forgotten aspect of quality commentary.

The son of Barbados journalist Jimmy Cozier, Tony went to Carleton University, Ottawa (where he did not last more than a year). Jimmy Cozier worked as Managing Editor of St Lucia Voice, Trinidad Advocate, and Barbados Advocate (in three different countries, in case you have not noticed) and founded Barbados Daily News. Journalism ran in Tony Cozier’s veins.

Tony probably inherited the cultured refrain of his tone and analytical skills from Jimmy, whose son’s eighth birthday gift was a Wisden. Short-wave radio and EW Swanton’s works kept him interested in the sport from his school days.

It helped that he went to the prestigious Lodge School (founded in 1745) — an institution that had given the world the likes of John Goddard, Roy Marshall and Barbados’ first captain Frederick Smith.

Cozier played club cricket (for Wanderers and Carlton, both in Barbados) as wicketkeeper; he was more prolific in hockey, where he represented Barbados in hockey as goalkeeper. At 12, he was working part-time for St Lucia Voice.

Before he turned 15, he was writing for Barbados Advocate; by 16 he was at Trinidad Guardian; he went back to Barbados Advocate, but his holidays were spent covering Trinidad and Guyana matches for Evening News, Trinidad. By 18, he was already writing about the West Indies team.

During his student days in Ottawa, Cozier tried his best to tune in to Windward Island Broadcasting Service to remain updated with the sport he loved so much. Cozier later told Georgia Popplewell of Caribbean Beat that he and his friends had converted this activity to a business: “They got to a stage where they would pay my train ticket to Montreal to bring the radio up and we set up a thing in their flat and charged West Indian students to come in and hear the commentary. We set up a bar and everything, and there were no pass-outs, so if you had three classes for the day, you paid three times.”

Seven years later, he started his career as commentator in a Test between West Indies and Australia. So impressed was BBC with his performance that they made him a part of Test Match Special in 1966, when West Indies toured England. His BBC TMS career took off with the Headingley Test.

Three years before that, however, he had toured England to follow the West Indians on their previous tour. By then he was working for his father’s Barbados Daily News, who did not have the budget to send a correspondent; so Cozier went on his own, following the West Indians across the country, living on meagre means in a country he was not acquainted to.

He listened to Arlott and Alan McGilvray, and decided to choose the latter as role model, for “you couldn’t copy a fella like John Arlott”. As per to Cozier, Arlott was the commentator’s equivalent of Garry Sobers and Brian Lara — too talented to be imitated. “McGilvray was the one who really described the cricket, and you could copy that and use that as a model,” he told Popplewell.

The Thomson Group acquired Barbados Daily News (after buying out Barbados Advocate) in 1968. According to the terms, neither Jimmy nor Tony Cozier was eligible to work for a competition in a similar role. So Tony was forced to join the advertising department of Barbados Advocate, a job he detested.

He pursued an illustrious career behind the microphone, for BBC TMS, Sky Sports and Channel Nine, and was the default guest commentator from West Indies whenever there was an overseas Test. In between all this, he found time to act as Editor of West Indies Cricket Journal throughout its existence from 1970 to 1991.

His much-acclaimed work The West Indies: 50 Years of Test Cricket came out in 1978. With the exception of Michael Manley, who had penned down A History of West Indies Cricket, no one has chronicled West Indies cricket so immaculately and extensively.

But Cozier’s greatest legacy was as a commentator who, unlike some of his counterparts across the world, relied on facts and dry humour instead of raising his voice in an effort to trying to compromise quality for cheap entertainment. There was no outrage, no overboard display of anger, for Cozier was not about dependence on decibels. That legacy has been passed on to the likes of Michael Holding and Ian Bishop.

There was a reason they named the press-box at Kensington Oval after Cozier.

There was a reason Mike Coward called Cozier “the most self-effacing of men, has always brought a rare breadth and worldliness to his commentary” on The Cricket Monthly.

There was a reason why Jonathan Agnew called him “probably my favourite cricket commentator in the world” on BBC. “Tony was the master of going between TV and radio ball-by-ball commentary. He was the master of both,” Agnew added.

There was a reason TMS producer Adam Mountford praised him with the words “he had a voice which instantly transported you from wherever you were in the world to the sun-drenched beaches of Barbados.” Indeed, there was no mistaking that rich Bajan accent; no West Indies match would be complete without him, for no other voice was soaked so much in the local flavour.

In 2011, he was granted an MCC life membership.

Less than five years after the honour, death claimed him. It has been just over a year since Benaud had passed away.

With Benaud I had lost my winter mornings. With Cozier, my summer nights go away. All I have left are memories of what cricket commentary used to be like, should be like.

A bit of the cricket-lover in me died with Benaud and Cozier.

Indeed, dark days lie ahead of us.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)