There was a time where I used to log on to ESPN's Cricinfo site every morning, and see what was happening in the world of cricket. It was—and still is—the best source for cricket news, and it's not that I am not interested. It's just with the demands of work and writing it's sometimes days between visits to the site.
So, it was actually only because of a link posted to Facebook that I learned the sad news that Tony Cozier had died.
Unless you are a follower of cricket you may not know who that is, so here's the short version—though I suggest you visit Cricinfo and read far better tributes than mine.
The Measure of a Man
His Wikipedia entry starts with the following line: "Winston Anthony Lloyd "Tony" Cozier (10 July 1940 – 11 May 2016) was a cricket journalist and writer and a radio commentator on West Indian cricket for over fifty years. Cozier was described as having an "encyclopaedic" knowledge of cricket."
But, it is impossible to sum up his love for, and contribution to, the world of cricket—especially the West Indies. Think about how familiar Richie Benaud's voice was to generations of Australians—that is what Cozier was to the West Indies. As much as we miss Richie, it is not a huge stretch to say that Tony may be missed even more in the West Indies. I say that out of no disrespect to Richie, but because of a very simple reason.
A Voice in the Wilderness
In Australia, we have a strong tradition of journalists, pundits, and even players willing to challenge the establishment. In fact, you can make a pretty good living out of it. We don't realise how lucky we are here with the infrastructure and the resources we have. It can be a very different reality in other corners of the cricket world.
For his entire career, Tony Cozier was willing to stand up to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). This often earned him scorn, and even insults, from a group of men who seemed far more interested in their own aggrandisement than the advancement of the West Indies cricket team. He wasn't alone in this, anyone who dared criticised the board would receive a speedy and scathing rebuke—no matter what their stature.
When bona fide legends of the game, even members of arguably the greatest team to strut out on a cricket oval—men who created the glorious legacy that the current WICB seems so intent on squandering—were not immune to slanders and criticism that they were dragging the Caribbean game down with negativity, how brave was it for Tony Cozier to put himself in the line of fire?
Speaking Truth to Power
Tony did not criticise the WICB, or players he felt weren't performing, or the wider cricket world because he was negative or because he wanted to drag them down. He criticised them because he cared, cared deeply, about the state of West Indies cricket and because it broke his heart to see how far it had fallen. He was angry when the team performed poorly, or when the board was corrupt or inept, because he believed that they could be, should be, better.
I can understand this, because it echoes how I feel about the church. I get frustrated with the things I see that I think are wrong, not because I don't care anymore, but because I care so much. You could hear that love in Tony's voice when he talked about that rich heritage of West Indies cricket, when he derided another farcical performance—or cheered one of their successes.
Last of His Kind?
It would have been sad at any time, but it seems especially tragic that Tony died at what might be an upswing in the fortunes of West Indian cricket. Recently, their U-19s and the men's and women's T20 teams were victorious in their respective World Cups. We don't know whether this is another false dawn, just a crest before another trough. We can only hope it is not
Another question that has to be asked is this. As we see the increasing towards commentators who toe the party line—whether that is those who rely on the BCCI for their lively hood and dare not critics it or former players too closely connected to those who used to be their team-mates—where will the next Tony Cozier come from?
We need commentators and writers and pundits whose love of the game is more important than what largesse boards might disperse their way. We need men and women who refuse to ignore cricket's problems, but instead speak up without fear or favour. In short, we need more Tony Coziers—not less.
Cricket gained so much from Tony, and the game is lessened by his passing. I hope and pray that Tony Cozier is now commentating a game of greats in Heaven—and that others will take up his mantle here on Earth.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html