Tony Cozier, there won’t be another

Sound is poorer without him

I don’t watch that much of cricket anymore. But back in school and college, I would’ve coasted my way towards an illustrious list of ‘Cricket Binge-Watchers’, if there were one. Because watching cricket back then, wasn’t just to float in the miracle that VVS Laxman’s wrists were, but to also improve your own game as a cricketer. Listening to the cricketing legends on-air could give you an edge in the next match against the neighborhood team, one’s mind would reason.

There were specific lessons to be learnt. “Soft hands,” Gavaskar would mention every time, a pitch turned awkwardly. Ian Chappell would deconstruct the art of decoding the exact distance slip fielders should position themselves on bouncy pitches. The magnificent Richie Benaud would look for signs to encourage new talent, “all fingers wrapped around the leather,” he would chime. Irrespective of whether India was playing or not, live commentary turned into a coaching manual to brush up your skills. And yet one voice that gave you a break from this intense exercise was Tony Coziers’.

Because that sheer timber of his voice added that chunk of joy to the boring academic cricketing lesson I was subjecting myself to while listening to cricketing commentary. And there was more. He brought with himself an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, having covered it already for a few decades before the turn of the millennium. On-air, he could speak of Kanhai, Gavaskar, Underwood and Richards as easily as Gayle, Steyn, Herath or Kohli. The generation didn’t matter to him. He had seen them all.

Those fifty-eight years spent on cricketing reportage were nothing less than the clichéd roller-coaster ride. He witnessed the ascendancy of West Indian cricket and observed their steady decline. He bemoaned about the cricketing affairs in the islands multiple times and even braved his way towards locking horns with the WICB. As a guardian of his beloved sport, he risked being an outsider, just so that his favorite sport could rise once again.

His yearning for West Indian cricket left an unimpeachable impression on me. That it was indeed possible to love the game so much even from the sidelines. What else would explain his involvement as a cricket journalist for over five decades? And then his story bore even more romance because of his legacy- a white man of Scottish roots in an alien land. Not only had his father dedicated his journalistic life to the sport, his son now continues to contribute to West Indian cricketing literature. Imagine three generations of focussed on one profession, on one sport. In an era of distractions, nothing wavered him from his singular devotion to the game.

Cricket today is in a state of turmoil. Fans in different parts of the world have various reasons to be disillusioned with the game. But when he was around, Tony was a soothing reminder that the reason we all still want to stay connected to cricket was because of the sheer love we harbored for the game. Never mind the match-fixers and power-grabbers, there was a good man out there beyond the boundary rooting for his weak-kneed team that was supported (if ever) by a most lamentable cricketing board. If such a man didn’t give up on the sport, this must be a good game.

That deep-seated love for the game that Cozier nurtured, indulged him in his very last year. Early 2017, West Indies became U-19 champions for the first time and the Men’s and Women’s team, against tough odds, wore World T20 Championship medals. It was cricket’s way of loving him back, one last time.

It was poetic. Three West Indian teams became world champions and Tony Cozier’s singular affair with the game got the happy ending it so rightfully deserved.

Cricket is a moderate game. It was meant to be one. Men wore white flannels and showed up on a verdant ground. They had lunch and a tea break during the day. You could always breathe the air before taking strike or running to bowl. This isn’t rugby. Cricket was meant to be a calming sport. And there must be a school of thought that believes that the more gently a cricketer purveys his skills, the closer a cricketer perhaps comes to the soul of the game. Which is why, a Vishwanath, a Gower, a Mark Waugh, a Dravid, a Trott, a Walsh, a Benaud, a Prasanna, a Swann for some of us meant more than the others. Away from the ground, Tony Cozier was that kind of a silken ribbon around the world of commentary, who whenever he spoke, had a calming influence on us. He didn’t feel the need to give in to mass hysteria. Graceful to a fault and unmindful of the harsh words or the prejudiced dispositions that sometimes his other commentary mates veered towards, Tony Cozier merely strove to make the art of listening to commentary a pleasing exercise for his viewers.

He never failed.

And for that and much more, thank you Tony.

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