Editorial | Cozier shaped a narrative
Remarkably, in the volume of tributes to Tony Cozier, the West Indian cricket writer and commentator who died this week, aged 75, hardly anyone remarked that he was white.
Perhaps it was he who didn't make it remarkable; he transcended race. Which is itself remarkable for someone from a region, in particular Barbados, with overwhelmingly black populations where the issue of race and ethnicity - and the implied privilege, or lack thereof, they confer - simmers just below the surface, though not spoken of.
In that sense, Cozier's death not only silences an emotionally connected and authentic voice on West Indies cricket, but, sadly, shuts a chapter on the sport in the Caribbean for which the region is the poorer. He is likely to be the last of the white West Indians to be on the field of play, literally and otherwise, in the region.
White West Indians began their active retreat from the sport in the 1960s at a time when black assertion insisted that competence and skills, rather than status and privilege, determined who was selected for teams and who led them, which translated to Frank Worrell's captaincy of the team to Australia in 1960. In the decades since, white administrators like Peter Short and Gerry Gomez have passed. And the last white player on the field for the West Indies, Australian-Jamaican Brendan Nash, last donned the regional colours five years ago. Before Nash's debut in 2008, it was three decades since Geoffrey Greenidge, the Barbadian opener, played for the West Indies.
It is in this context that Cozier, like the citizens for whom the team represented their hopes, exulted in their triumphs and felt, vocalised and chronicled its pains of the past two decades. No one doubted his authenticity. Cozier himself addressed the issue in 2012 in a conversation with an English cricket writer, Gemma Wright.
NO RACIAL ISSUE
"There has never been an issue with me being white and reporting on West Indies cricket," he said. "I never felt that way."
He added: "My family has been here for six generations, so I am originally West Indian and West Indian to the core ... . I always felt completely West Indian, and I was always received by the players that way."
It didn't hurt Cozier that he was an intense student of the game, a talented journalist and exceptional storyteller. He wrote simple, uncomplicated, vivid prose. He was possessed with a voice that was at once silken, yet crisp and as clear as highly polished glass, which found the appropriate octave for every emotion. He was sensitive, but was honest, and often brutally frank in his assessment of players and administrators, as Dave Cameron, the current president of the West Indies Cricket Board, can attest. No one, even when they disagreed, had cause to doubt that his opinions were genuinely held.
Cozier, in that conversation with Gemma Wright, wanted to be remembered as that. "I honestly and truthfully chronicled West Indies cricket to the best of my ability." Mission accomplished!
But in nearly 60 years of writing and broadcasting the sport, Cozier accomplished more than that. He helped to fashion a narrative of the West Indies, with its specific cadences and contexts. He will be an enduring part of West Indies history. In the event, Tony Cozier transcended himself.