Cricket down here is the poorer for his passing, but for listeners to the celestial version of Test Match Special – tuning in to the big match between the Pearly Gates and the Herald Angels – the news is rather better. Arlott, Johnston, CMJ, and now Tony Cozier. What a team.
My first cricket tour to the West Indies was in 1990, when wise old hands in the press box rather spoiled my anticipation of swaying palm trees, coconut daiquiris and Caribbean sunsets with grave warnings of potentially dangerous aspects to the trip. Namely don’t wander around in downtown Kingston or Port of Spain after dark, take a snorkel and flippers with you to Guyana, and, for visiting hacks invited to his East-coast Barbados beachhouse, beware the Cozier beer and rum party.
In the case of the latter, I was able to reflect on the sagacity of that advice while sitting in my Mini Moke in the middle of a sugar cane field on the return trip from the Cozier bash. “Phew Geoff,” I said to my colleague from The Times. “That was a tight old bend.”
“Geoff? Geoff?” At which point a plaintiff cry from the darkness told me that Geoff was in no position to discuss the cornering qualities of the Moke, having parted company from the open-sided hire vehicle just before the unintentional detour.
The Cozier beach party was the highlight of the Barbados Test week, although finding the venue was almost as tricky as getting back from it. You could smell the barbecued flying fish, and hear the chinking of glasses and guffaws of laughter, but it was almost impossible to find Chateau Cozier without – and I made this suggestion to him several times – being guided by a box of flares.
Once you got there, though, TC, as he was universally known, was a terrific host, although first-timers weren’t to know that when he handed them a rum punch it was marginally more lethal than a Michael Holding bouncer.
After half a dozen of these, I wondered whether TC would introduce me to his identical twin, until I realised that it was merely a grog-induced case of seeing two of him.
When TC let his hair down, he did so (rather like returning Mini Moke guests) without hitting the brakes. Not surprising, really, given that everything he did was 100 per cent full on, and no journalist I’ve ever met was more dedicated to his craft than he was. Or as totally unflappable.
I remember, when England had collapsed to 46 for eight in the final session of the penultimate day of the Trinidad Test in 1994, the visiting hacks ending up slumped over their desks – emotionally drained at the task of trying to keep up with the carnage over three different editions. And that was just for the one newspaper.
Cozier, meantime, was not only doing a column for my newspaper at the time, The Independent, but also several publications around the Caribbean, as well as radio commentary. And he did it all as though he was sitting in a beach bar writing a postcard. Never once, could anyone recall him looking flustered.
Not even when – and this was long before the days of internet, laptops, and mobile phones – he was attempting to send an article from Australia via cable, a method of communication which, to the modern generation, is not too far advanced from strapping a message to a pigeon, or putting a note in a bottle and dropping it over the side of a pedalo.
On this occasion, the article was destined for The Guyana Chronicle, but when a cabled message came back reporting that it hadn’t arrived TC checked and discovered that it had gone to Ghana instead. He sent it again, and this time it arrived in Guinea. A third attempt resulted in it going to the Cayman Islands, at which point very few hacks would have avoided a nuclear meltdown. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there, but my guess is that TC would at most have managed a resigned shrug.
One of Cozier’s many considerable gifts was to become the pre-eminent, highly respected chronicler of West Indies cricket in an era when collective identity was at best fragile. Island loyalties were such (and by and large still are) that when Cozier once wrote a critical article about Trinidad’s Phil Simmons, a banner at the Queen’s Park Oval was unfurled to read: “Cozier Is A Dog”.
He first reported on cricket at the age of 15, and his first tour of England was in 1963 – on such a tight budget that he stayed in YMCA’s and on friends’ sofas. Radio, however, was to become TC’s real forte, and listeners were not only informed but soothed by his melodic Bajan twang. So much so, that those who didn’t know what he looked like wrongly assumed that he was black.
His death, at the age of 75, is sad for any number of reasons, but not least for moving us closer to the day where cricket will only be written about, or broadcast, by former players. Some of whom are outstandingly good, but many of whom – apparently selected purely on the basis that they were once a good batsman for Pakistan, or bowled pretty well for Australia – are excruciatingly awful.
Some base their commentary around Basil Fawlty’s description of his wife’s special subject on Mastermind – “the bleedin’ obvious” – and others appear to have acquired the vocabulary invented by Stanley Unwin, an old-time British comedian who made a career out of talking gobbledygook. And some can even manage a combination of the two.
TC was one of the last of the breed of proper journalists at the forefront of television and radio cricket commentary – Harsha Bhogle in India is about the only one left now – and while Cozier was a man who occasionally replayed his commentaries at night to listen out for faults in order to improve, there’s a new breed around who just like to hear the sound of their own voice.
TMS should tread carefully with its laddish, former player ho-ho-ho environment. Especially when its number one asset, Aggers, calls it a day. One of the programme’s quirks is nipping off for the Shipping Forecast, but the worry now is that there may come a time when the listener’s irritation at having Broad and Anderson interrupted by Dogger and Fisher might end up the other way round.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 20 2016