Tony Cozier Unplugged (Part 1)
Michelle Mc Donald
April 21, 2004
For our generation, Tony Cozier has been the 'keeper of the flame', the unmistakable voice of West Indies cricket. He wears his love for the game (and the West Indies team) proudly but won't hesitate to crack the whip when things are falling apart.
Having seen the best and the worst of West Indies cricket, Cozier is at his best talking about the glory days and equally passionate when discussing the low points. In this interview with CaribbeanCricket.com's Michelle McDonald, Cozier speaks candidly about the leadership of the WICB, the question of team discipline, the role of the manager and the relationship between Brian Lara and coach Gus Logie...
MM: You've travelled around quite a bit, you've seen a lot. Put on your thinking cap and speaking very hypothetically, if you were President of the WICB today, how would you stop the rot?
TC: Even hypothetically, I would not be the president of the West Indies Cricket Board. I don't think you could really pay me enough money to take up a post like that!
In your mind, what is the biggest problem?
There are so many that have been allowed to develop. I'm just trying to think where to start, that's the main problem - where to start to redevelop. I think perhaps I would look at Barbados to begin with and to say look, that team over the last two years has had a tremendous amount of success, whereas the year before, for the first time ever, they lost 3 consecutive matches at home, did not qualify for the semi-final of what was then the Busta Cup.
Obviously they did something to put it right and the consequence was that they've gone two seasons without losing a match, winning both the Cup and the International Shield and not losing a regional match now for 21 matches.
So, as WICB president, you would go to Barbados and ask how they turned things around?
We've seen that we have U-15 and U-19 players who can compete, more than compete at international level. There is a gap between the U-19 and U-23 which needs to be bridged.
I don't suppose we can ever do anything about insularity and the divisions between the territories, which is there to be seen in every aspect of West Indian life, but we've got to try. We didn't produce the greatest cricketers the world has known and the greatest teams the world has known by throwing our hands up and saying, for instance as Gus Logie said last week, that it goes back to indiscipline among the youth in the society. That is a cop out. The minority of youth in the Caribbean is undisciplined; the majority is not. They don't have the parental or grandparental examples that they used to have.
I would point to the steel band movement in Trinidad where those who play pan come from the same society backgrounds as cricketers. I've heard it said that they don't have the guidance that they used to, yet the Trinidad steel band movement has maintained excellence. They achieve perfection through practice and discipline. If you are a member of, let us say Desperadoes, and you turn up late for practice, you're out. There are so many areas in West Indian life where there is discipline among the youth, and there is excellence, so why can't we have it back again in cricket, as we used to have it?
Another thing I would try if I were the WICB president is to get the confidence of the former players. That has been completely eroded. They feel that they are not wanted now. There are people in high-profile positions in the WICB, very few of them are ex-cricketers of any standard. They are now going by the book of coaching, of bio-mechanics, and such. And they are alienating the great players of the past.
Do you think it is important for ex-test players to hold those high-profile positions?
No not necessarily, but at least to be encouraged to come back into the sport to help the youngsters. A number of them don't have coaching certificates and they've reached the stage of life where they're not going to get coaching certificates. People like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner. The resource material in their heads is absolutely vital and also the status which they hold among young emerging players.
Coaching certificates are all well and good, we don't throw those out by any means, but we do not make the former players feel, by what we say and what we write in reports, that they are not relevant in today's modern cricket. What made Sobers the great he was? Or Constantine, or Headley? It wasn't bio-mechanics. It was pure basic talent, listening to the former players, common sense and of course practice, discipline and commitment.
You've written a lot about the decorum, the lack of manners, the dress code. It seems that this grates on you. Why?
Whatever happens off the field is reflected on the field or in a work place. For instance let's take the dress code. 'Doesn't matter, they only need to be dressed when they go on the field. When they go off the field they're young people they want to dress in the modern way'. Even if it means dressing in arm-hole shirts and looking slovenly, not cutting their hair and so on.
But yet why has the Police force got uniforms? Banks, you name it, so many areas where you are uniformed because you are part of a team off the field as well. When you are not in a team environment, it's your business. But when you are travelling with the West Indies team, when you're in the team - and the team is not only on the field and that's a big problem we have, the team off the field - in hotels, travelling in the team bus, showing themselves to the world not only on the ground but off it.
I think that is absolutely vital and I've seen that happen and it does grate me, when I can see not only players, but the Assistant Coach recently in South Africa, who is a member of the management team and who didn't seem to appreciate that. They must be made to understand why it is necessary. I don't think anyone explains to the young cricketer who comes into the team why he should be dressed in a certain way, why he should carry himself in a certain way.
When Corey Collymore came back he was asked why he was looking that way. People here were annoyed about it. He said he is his own man, but he's not his own man. He's a West Indies cricketer when he's playing for the West Indies. Outside of that he is his own man. He can do what he wants, it doesn't matter when he's not playing for West Indies.
Why should you not go into the Red Stripe Mound when you lose a Test match? They don't seem to appreciate that and it's the team management's responsibility. They came down very hard on the four players who were in the Red Stripe Mound. They should have been accountable as they were in the end with Ricky Skerritt's resignation.
Let me ask you now about the interim Manager, Tony Howard. Do you think he can make a difference?
I don't think a manager really can make that much difference. A manager is an administrative post, and I don't think it's too difficult to do it. You're booking flights, looking after hotel bookings and so on and you're ensuring that the players are disciplined off the field, and perhaps even on it. You relate and interact with your captain and with your coach and you have to have the respect of the players. I think that's what the Manager's role is.
The Australian team is the mightiest team in world cricket now and if I ask in the press box "Who is the manager of the Australian team?" no one can name him. No one can name the Manager of the England team that is currently beating the West Indies or the Manager of the Indian team and that's how it should be. He is working behind the scenes and that's how it should be. Everybody knew Ricky Skerritt as the West Indies team Manager; he was high profile.
Perhaps Tony Howard will make a difference. The success of the Barbados team was not due to Tony Howard, Courtney Browne, Hendy Springer or Stephen Alleyne. It was due to all of them coming together with the players, the background, the preparation, the discipline, the hard work and not one man.
After the 47 all out in Jamaica, you mentioned the importance of the captain and coach "getting along". Is there a rift there?
Well definitely. If you heard Gus Logie in Zimbabwe when I asked him about Brian Lara's captaincy on the field, he said words to the effect of you make plans off the field, but Lara is a very unconventional captain and may change those plans on the field. He repeated just about the same thing at the press conference before the 3rd Test match here where he said he had considered resigning himself on one occasion but he didn't figure that he was wholly responsible for what was happening on the field of play.
Do you think that combination will last, the Lara and Logie one?
I hope not. I hope not because it is obviously not getting on, and it is obvious that Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughn are getting on. Also Fletcher and Nasser Hussein, even though England were going through a rough period, and John Buchanan in Australia and whichever captain they have. It is obvious you can see teamwork and I mean not only the Captain and the Coach, but also the Manager and the players.
The Board has to back the players as well, and I'm afraid that the territorial associations are also in a bit of a shambles, as well as the Board itself. We come back then to the administrative part of it where, as we know, all sorts of things have gone wrong with the Board and yet they have more and more people in office. The office just continues blowing up. It's getting obese where as before it was very svelte, very well run, fit and professional.
You can't have a team announced with Chanderpaul out and Baugh in because of a handwriting error where somebody scribbled on a piece of paper and gave it to somebody else and he issued it through the email before the players knew. Because the Manager and chief selector were not getting on and the Manager was not informed, that's where a lot of the problems are. If we are together it's amazing what we can achieve, and if we are not together, well, we see what's happening on the field of play here.
Even over the past 10 years, the Trinidad and Tobago Board issuing public statements accusing the WICB, of which it is a member, of a conspiracy against their leading players. We had Guyana and Jamaica I think qualifying for the semi-final of the Busta Cup on one occasion. This was not too long ago. The Guyana Board carried the WICB to court, it was going to go that far, because they felt that they should be in the semi-final instead of the Jamaica team (I think it was), and they had to go to a high court judge to let him settle it.
You can go through the list where there is division all the while. For example, where the WICB said they wanted Marlon Samuels to get a check up on his knee before he went to the World Cup, the Jamaicans sent him to play a match in Anguilla, and then he left and went to New York. They are all pulling against each other, not with each other, so what's happening on the field is not entirely surprising.
(Should Brian Lara give up the captaincy? Is WIPA's newly-discovered militancy good for West Indies cricket? Is the 'youth-at-all-costs' selection policy working? Is the WICB being properly managed? Can regional journalists avoid being insular?
In part two of Michelle McDonald's exclusive interview with Tony Cozier, the region's leading writer/broadcaster tackles those questions and calls for a wholesale rethink of the way cricket is managed in the Caribbean...)
MM:Some people say Lara is one of the problems, should he give up the captaincy?
TC:That's a difficult question. I'm not sure. Looking at Lara in recent times, I think a lot of his tactics have to be questioned from that point of view. We've heard he's an unconventional captain and so you can be an unconventional captain, but if you're doing nonsensical, illogical things, rather than unconventional things, then that has to be questioned.
He is our one great player and he is the kind of personality who seems to attract controversy and I don't think you need that with a captain. A captain really should be uncontroversial. When you go through the list of the great captains that we've had in Frank Worrell, in Clive Lloyd, they were calm, settling individuals, highly respected by the players around them, highly respected by the public, no controversy to speak of around them and if there was controversy, it was understandable and even perhaps beyond their control.
So I think we need a captain who is a settled individual. Lara is a mercurial personality. He's coming to the end of his days now, he's almost 35, so you're looking at maybe another four years for Lara.
They've turned to Sarwan, identified him as the one that they want to develop as the captain, and the WICB then wanted to have a leadership course for young prospective leaders in West Indies cricket. That was blocked by the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) and my understanding is that they wanted to do it themselves. Once again, the players association pulled against the board, and called the players out on strike.
MM:WIPA seems to have become a militant union, is that a good thing?
TC:I think that's nonsense and that's also helping to create the problems on the field. Of course there are two sides to the story and we know already that the WICB is not the most professionally-run organization, but surely there must be grounds between two groups which profess to be aiming for the same thing to come together and sort out those things.
If you call a strike before a semi-final of a Carib Beer series in the sponsors' first year, the sponsors should say 'We pull out, now get your money players. We're paying you.' Even before we went to the ICC trophy in Sri Lanka, a media conference was called. They got upset about something and refused to turn up to the media conference. Well, the media shouldn't have turned up to the other conference they held.
All of these are petty things and they shouldn't be allowed to continue by the leaders, or so-called leaders of the organization. But they are allowed and all of that is adding up. It's all the peripheral things that add up.
MM:Who do you see as making up the core of the Test side in five years time?
TC:That is a very worrying aspect as well. Not only have the English shown up our deficiencies in the Test series but in the matches outside the Tests as well. The selection hasn't been good, where the batting teams have found it difficult to raise 200 runs.
MM:They've thrown in very young players into those tour matches.
And the selectors have adopted a 'youth-at-all-costs' policy. Is that a smart move?
TC:No. You put in Xavier Marshall, Dinesh Ramdin and a few other U-19s who have just come back from the Youth World Cup but they're not up to that level yet. When you push them, I think you're asking too much of them at too early an age. They haven't learnt to develop an innings yet, to build an innings so they are not ready. Players are coming in and doing well because of their natural talent, but they are missing the background to push on so a number of them fade very quickly.
In Australia, Marlon Samuels had an outstanding first series at the age of 19 when he hadn't even made a first-class hundred. Now how can you come into Test cricket, without having made a first-class hundred? Ryan Hinds started with a very good 60-odd against Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. Ricardo Powell immediately makes an impact and then fades. Samuels is no longer around, I know he had a knee injury but he wasn't a certainty in the team when you thought he would be. Hinds is struggling now to come to terms with Test cricket, only has one first-class hundred throughout his career and he's been playing first-class cricket since he was about 18. You can't expect them to come into a Test match and make a hundred more regularly than they are.
Even people like Chanderpaul and Sarwan took a long time before they got their first hundreds. They were brought in early at the age of 19 but it takes time and we don't have the first-class cricket foundation that we had in the past. People like Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge developed in county cricket, as did a lot of our players. That was a professional environment which contained some of the best players in the world.
MM:The WICB has talked about the importance of retainer contracts. Do you think that will make much of a difference to performance?
TC:I think it will. The players will then become professionals on a year-round basis and the Board can then call the shots, but given the history of the Board, you wonder if that's a good thing. But I think it probably will be. There is talk of difficulties raising enough finance. The wastage of money in the Board to me is staggering.
MM:What do you mean by wastage?
TC:For instance, the number of people they have on staff. I just wonder how do they occupy their time for eight hours a day, for five days a week? I'm astounded but they will come and tell me about Murphy's Law, that the more people you have, the more work they will create. I think they can cut down on that.
Everywhere you go in the Caribbean during the Test series, it seems as if the entire Board is at the ground, and for what reason? What are they doing here? They're staying in Five-Star hotels, they're travelling I would imagine First-Class, maybe Economy, but all that costs money. Why are they here?
You hardly ever used to see Chris Dehring for instance at every Test match when he was on. There are too many people around. Yet things are given out to third parties, when you have a Marketing Committee, a head of Marketing. With the ticket business we've had this year, with New Century Marketing being given the rights in England, a third party was the one that came in and had the idea and recommended New Century Marketing and the third party had to be paid out for that. Now what's our marketing department doing? I think we can save a lot of money and put it back into cricket.
MM:Let's talk about criticism because members of the media often times criticize whether it's the players, Board and so on. In South Africa, Brian Lara said that he expected more support from the senior journalists. Do you think that criticism will affect access to the players or are you bold enough to say exactly what is on your mind?
TC:You have to. If you do not, your credibility is shot and I was fortunate to come up at a time when most of the players were of my vintage, most of them I knew well, I played club cricket against them. They were personal friends of mine and they still are. For instance, Wes Hall conducted the wedding ceremony for my daughter, Prof Edwards is my son's godfather and vice-versa, Garry (Sobers) has been a close personal friend for years and you felt that whatever you wrote, it didn't matter to them.
They would take the criticism, they would take the praise, and most of it was praise in those days of course.
I suppose as well at my age, I come from the old school of cricket writing where I very seldom depend on quotes or interviews - it's opinionated writing, it's my views.
People like E.W. Swanton, John Woodcock in England, Streb Roberts in Jamaica, a few others of the old school, would write and people would read what they wrote and that's their opinion. What are your views of the day's play rather than having interviews with players at the end who will say stirring stuff like 'We won the match because we scored more runs and got more wickets than they did'. How are you feeling today? 'Oh I'm feeling good' and 'The guys are this and the guys are that', so it doesn't affect me to any extent.
Of course you can always tell when the players are wary of you. You board a plane and nobody speaks to you. It doesn't matter.
I've had real problems throughout the Caribbean with topics. In Trinidad on one occasion I wrote quite simply and I think logically, because the selectors agreed with it eventually, that Phil Simmons should make way for Carl Hooper to come back into the team. When I got to the Queens Park Oval there were signs and slogans all over the place and they were chanting 'Cozier go home'. At the time when there were two convicted murderers on death row, Richie Richardson and myself were on signs outside saying 'Hang Cozier and Richardson'.
Here in Barbados, with Gordon Greenidge, who was going through a bad patch, had played 25 consecutive Test innings without scoring a half-century and was coming up to his 40th year. Brian Lara, who was not in the side at the time but really might have been. So I said look, this may be the end for Greenidge. He's going through a bad period, maybe it's time for someone young to come in and of course, the headline was 'The end for Greenidge'.
At the ground a number of Greenidge's supporters came into the press box late in the day.
I was not there, I was upstairs in the broadcasting booth at the time and the security guard came to me and said 'I'll go and get your stuff from downstairs, I don't think you should be in the press box'. They went after Craig, my son, abusing him and eventually came upstairs and actually got into the broadcasting booth. I asked them if they had been at my son and they said 'Yes, we couldn't find you' so I said 'Here is my home number, ring my wife and abuse her as well if you're that cowardly'. That took them aback, then we chatted about cricket and that settled it down. Several instances like that we've had.
In 1991, the whole ground staff in Jamaica came to the press box because we had said on the radio that they were irresponsible in not covering the pitch when it rained. They were screaming and shouting and I couldn't understand what they were saying but you get a bit fearful.
There was one chap in the front who was very quiet and who was saying nothing and I said 'I can't take everybody at the same time so I need a spokesman, you're the spokesman'. He said 'We've asked the Jamaica Cricket Association for raincoats for years and we never got them so we decided that that was it, we decided to teach them a lesson'. I never knew that and I apologized on the air, explained what it was about. The next day - bright, sunny, very hot - they all came out in their mustard coloured Sou'esters (raincoats).
MM:Do you think that the media in general does a good job in covering West Indies cricket?
TC:On the whole yes but I also feel that a number of journalists, and it is only understandable, will project their own.
MM:So they see things from a national rather than a regional perspective?
TC:Yes, and that's nothing new, that goes all the way back. It's symptomatic of what we are in the West Indies. Back in the early 1990's I think, The Guyana Chronicle had 'Harper left out of the West Indies team' as it's headline, the Guardian I can't remember, Barbados had 'Best included in the West Indies team', Antigua was quarrelling I think maybe about Ridley Jacobs or some other person, and of course in Jamaica, some other Jamaican was the headline.
Of course the journalists now are different, they look for interviews and get very close with players. A lot of youngsters, as I was when I was coming up, are very close to players. Fine, but I wonder if the young journalists now, who are friendly with the players, would have it in them to be critical and to say what has to be said. Nothing personal, but I think a number of people take it personally now and maybe are afraid to say what should be said.
MM:CaribbeanCricket.com is not one of those that are afraid.
TC:No, definitely not.
MM:How do you see the role of this website?
I think it really is a thorn in the side of the WICB and the more thorns the WICB can get in its side, the better. I think it has done a very good job and I know the WICB looks very carefully at it.
There is obviously a 'mole' in the Board that sends information back, for example the word-for-word minutes of the cricket committee and so on.
It has provided a very good medium for those who have an interest in West Indies cricket, especially outside the Caribbean, to get on and give their views. I don't go on the Message Board now because honestly it drives me crazy to read what's on there but still, it gives them a sound off and they never had that before.