January 23, 2022

A loss beyond measure

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AR-160529896.jpg&MaxW=730&imageversion=ArticleBy Mark Fajgenbaum From Trinidad Express

The following is a guest column in tribute to the late West Indies cricket commentator/writer Tony Cozier:

It is no loose hyperbole to describe the death of Tony Cozier last week as perhaps the single, most devastating loss inflicted on West Indies cricket, either on or off the field of play, in its entire, remarkable history.

Such was the impact of this humble, affable Caribbean man and journalist—whose lifetime of dedication to the sport from beyond the boundary ropes left its mark on Caribbean life beyond all boundaries.

In historical terms, the sense of loss currently permeating the West Indian cricket fraternity can perhaps only be compared to, or surpassed by, the premature demise of legendary statesman and captain Sir Frank Worrell in 1967. Yet, when Sir Frank so tragically shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 42, with so much seemingly left to give, West Indies cricket was in rude health. The Test team that year boasted a cabal of players who would themselves become icons of the game: Hall, Griffith, Gibbs and the incomparable Garfield Sobers. In the fullness of time, Sir Frank’s legacy and his untimely passing were seen as a metaphorical springboard for the blossoming of the West Indies team in the late 1960’s, and which fulfilled its destiny in the all-conquering sides of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Sadly, heartbreakingly, the circumstances surrounding West Indies cricket at Tony Cozier’s departure could not be more starkly contrasting. It makes his passing all the more significant—and all the more poignant. Indeed, it is not unlikely that TC’s passing will be interpreted by future cricket historians as a symbolic, watershed moment—when the institution of West Indies cricket itself, in lock-step with its most ardent supporter, observer and chronicler, lurched from chronic ill-health to terminal end.

Tony Cozier was known the world over as “the voice of West Indies cricket.” He could, just as accurately, have been described as West Indian cricket’s loving uncle, its godfather, its Herodotus, its conscience, its living and breathing history.

It has been many years since even the most die-hard West Indian supporter has shed a tear for West Indies cricket. Numbed by defeat after defeat, fans have watched West Indies cricket stagger from one crisis to the next; and have largely chosen apathy and distraction rather than observing the painful train wreck. Yet, when news of Tony Cozier’s death filtered across the internet and the airways week before last, it tapped into a raw well of West Indian emotion. Up and down the islands and across the diaspora, memories were shared and condolences expressed. For Tony’s family. For West Indian cricket. For ourselves. For the halcyon days we now knew, more acutely than ever, we would never, ever live to see again.

The feats of Sir Wes Hall, Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Brian Lara and Curtly Ambrose have been consigned to history a long time ago. Yet, so long as Cozier’s familiar, honeyed tones were reverberating on our airwaves and his incisive words were being published online, their legacies lived and breathed on. He was our cricketing high-priest whose incantations connected, in a few breaths and a few choice words, the glories of our past to the realities of our uncertain present.
West Indies cricket has for years now been irrelevant on the field of play. Voices both inside and outside the Caribbean have called for the team to be disbanded and the islands to “go it alone”.

However, as long as Cozier—with his unique command of our history and his undying love and passion for West Indies cricket was around, one felt that the concept of “West Indies Cricket” was alive, and that it had an eloquent champion with a global audience who would always fight its corner. If there was a new crisis in West Indies cricket, which there seemed to be every other month in the past two decades, fans simply awaited the next column from TC. Tony would put the crisis into perspective, provide a voice of reason and clarity, but ultimately and most importantly a voice filled with undying passion and devotion.

There is no doubt that Tony Cozier, himself, was pessimistic about the future of West Indies cricket. But we all knew that Tony would fight-on regardless, even to his last days to keep the dream alive. And he did just that. It is indicative of the man that even when he knew his time was drawing near, and that West Indies cricket too was on its last legs, he produced some of his finest, most important work. This has made his departure all the more difficult.

In his last columns, which were clearly love letters to the sport he spent his life chronicling, Tony implored regional politicians and legends of the game to take up the mantle to change the governance of West Indies cricket. Let us hope that his death, rather than being a harbinger of the impending demise of West Indies cricket, will serve as an inspiration for real change to occur.

Let us too never forget the voice, the man, the character who transcended sports journalism not just in the Caribbean but across the globe. Yuh see, when Tony Cozier the radio broadcaster described for his audience, in his inimitable Bajan tones, a West Indian batsman’s cover drive, there was clearly so much more to the experience.

In his voice, in his passion, in the history that he had personally lived and breathed, West Indians (and fans of the West Indies) were in fact experiencing something else, something deeper.

They were partaking in the soundtrack of their life. They were being transported by TC across their own personal and collective time and space. Perhaps 20 or 30 or 50 years into their own past; perhaps even into their parents’ and grandparents’ past —and back again to their present: Now back once more to Sobers. Forwards to Lara. Outside off to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who leaves it alone, ungainly. Lance Gibbs from round the wicket.

Michael Holding moves away from the commentary box end. Short of a length to Richards on the back foot; Gordon Greenidge, limping, pivoting, off his hip through the onside. Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall: out… leg before! Roy Fredericks through backward point; Clive Lloyd disdainfully; Lawrence Rowe leaning with no effort at all; Jeffrey Dujon on the sweep for four and Alvin Kallicharan on the hook, now on the floor.

In my own case, listening to Tony Cozier transported me, no matter where I was at that moment in my life —whether in Trinidad, or later, in the United States, Scotland or London— into a nine-year-old boy-spirit. The nine-year-old who used to lie awake in bed in Maraval at three o’clock in the morning, under blankets, with frogs chirping in the forest, and a transistor radio held close to his ear, volume low, lest he wake up Pops; listening to his greatest heroes doing battle in the gullies and slip fields of lands far, far away through the voice of a kindly, excitable uncle.

Perhaps it was my own nostalgia for this little Caribbean boy-spirit; or perhaps it was the realisation that West Indies cricket had indeed fallen, in spite of this great man’s life and love; that caused me, without warning or understanding, to shed tears when I heard Tony Cozier and his magical voice had been silenced forever.

—Dr Mark Fajgenbaum is a St Mary’s College old boy and West Indies Test cricket fan. He works as an ophthalmic surgeon at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, England.

IMAGE: Reminiscing: West Indies coach Phil Simmons, left, chats with West Indies cricket legend Sir Everton Weekes at the funeral service for the late commentator-journalist Tony Cozier at the Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens, Christ Church, Barbados, on Friday. —Photo: Kenmore Bynoe, Barbados Nation

For more on this story go to: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20160522/sports/a-loss-beyond-measure

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