Never a dull moment with Tony Cozier
Trinidad & Tobago Newsday article.
Port of Spain, Trinidad - This is part five of a series about the life and times of one of cricket’s most famous commentators and writers, Tony Cozier….
All journalists, whether they work in the print industry, or the television/radio stations, will be fully aware that they can offend persons by what they say. And Cozier, during his five decades of West Indies cricket reporting, knows full well about that.
“Here (in Trinidad), when I wrote a very simple piece saying that Phil Simmons will have to give way in the West Indies team because Carl Hooper was coming back in, in ’94,” he reflected.
Cozier was referring to the 1994 home series against England, following the first Test match in Jamaica where the West Indies won by 10 wickets. But Hooper, who did not play in that Test, declared himself unfit for the remainder of the series due to a back injury, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul replaced Simmons for the second Test in Guyana.
However, Cozier faced a backlash from the fans during the third Test at the Queen’s Park Oval. “When I came back here then, the whole Oval, I couldn’t believe the reaction to it, there were signs all over the place (saying) “Cozier is a dog”, “Cozier this” and boos and everything, terrible.
I just couldn’t believe why a small thing like that over a selection would have caused that reaction from the crowd here. But I suppose the people were so passionate and, of course, so into it, that those things happen.”
Another moment which stood out was during the 1991 home series against Australia. “When Gordon Greenidge was coming towards the end of his days (in 1991), I wrote a piece in Barbados (saying) this may have been his final Test match (the fourth Test of the five-match series) because he had gone 25 Test innings without scoring a half-century, and Brian Lara was on the edge and still couldn’t get a place in the side. I was really hectored for that in Barbados as well, and as you would know and, in fact, inevitable, Gordon Greenidge ended up making (226).”
He added, “so that really put me in my place. It was just a speculative piece but the headline in the Nation was “The End for Greenidge”. And that got people up. You can only write as you see it.”
As fate will have it, that was Greenidge’s last Test match on home soil (he played one more Test, in Antigua) as he suffered a knee injury during the tour of England weeks later, which ruled him out of the five-match Test series.
The following home series against South Africa was one of the most controversial in West Indies history, with the omissions and subsequent retirements of Greenidge, Sir Vivian Richards, Jeff Dujon and Malcolm Marshall, the struggles leading up to (and at) the 1992 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand, and Sir Richie Richardson’s rough initiation to the captaincy.
“They interviewed me in radio and I had said it’s not up to me, it’s up to the people if they want to boycott it,” he said, about the ill-fated boycotted Test in Barbados. ‘They wanted me to say “oh no, the people should come out” but no, because at that stage it was a culmination of everything.
“We had gone to the World Cup, they’d dropped Richards, Greenidge and Dujon all at one time (with Marshall going after the World Cup). Richards said that he did want to go to the World Cup even though he’d been replaced as captain. There were all sorts of confusion then. Richie Richardson said that the match against South Africa (in the World Cup), our first ever against South Africa, was “just another cricket match”. All of these things built up.”
Cozier continued, “he (Richardson) got booed in Jamaica, he was under pressure. When they came to Barbados, leaving out (Andy) Cummins and bringing in Kenny Benjamin in the side, Cummins had done pretty well in the World Cup, the crowd said that was enough. But why Barbados, where people know the game, they were not going to boycott something because an ordinary cricketer like Cummins got dropped. No way. They boycotted over issues that (came) out.
“When you talk about an island that has produced some of the greatest of all time, the feeling of the public, all over the Caribbean, was “look, there were a lot of things being unfair, being badly handled and so on”. That was the reason for it.”