Category Archives: Cricket

RIP Winston

Winston Anthony Cozier has left this world. Many cricket fans will read today about his contribution to the coverage of the game, about his inimitable voice being the soundtrack to many childhoods, and about how much poorer the world of cricket will be without him. All of these things are true, of course. To thousands of people, Tony was a superb broadcaster with an exceptional knowledge on the game. But he was also, to the blessed few, a very good friend. I’m counting my lucky stars today that I can call myself one of them.

Although writing this is a cathartic process for me, I do it in the hope of imparting at least some of the person that Tony was away from the microphone. Even writing in the past tense causes a fresh flood of tears, such is the great loss felt at knowing that the happy times that always ensued with Tony are gone forever.

Tony lived life to the fullest. He spent his adult years following cricket around the world, enjoying the “après cricket” just as much as the games themselves. It would be no overstatement to say he loved a drink. But he loved a good drink. Why swig cheap rum when you can order the most expensive? And wine was just the poor cousin of champagne with Tony. Bubbly and oysters was his perfect meal.

When I first met Tony in 2009 in Guyana, my friend Chris and I were drinking 5 year old Eldorado (locally produced rum). Tony was aghast, and immediately ordered a bottle of the 25 year old for us. He was generous like that. “I can only have one with you”, he said, “I’ve got an early flight to Barbados”. He said this every half an hour until 2am, when he finally stumbled off to bed. Tony was about the good times.

I have so many memories like that. The spontaneous, drink imbued socialising that ended long after anyone had intended. The quick working lunch we had planned in London, which Tony said would be helped by champagne, and an after dinner liqueur. Little work was done, so we decamped to the pub to watch the cricket. Craft cider was ordered; the work we had to discuss became a distant memory. A Thai dinner followed, Tony loved his Thai food, with gin and tonics and wine, before a return to the pub and rounds of rum. My early afternoon train home long gone, Tony bundled me into a taxi to Paddington with minutes to spare before the last train home. I awoke, with the beginnings of a monster hangover, in the early hours of the morning as the train pulled in to Bristol Temple Meads.

Tony’s generosity extended beyond those whom he knew personally. His cricket style commentary of my Dad’s life over a video I made for his 70th birthday was the icing on the cake of my Fathers’ special day, and I know we will both watch it in the coming weeks with fondness, sadness, and likely a few tears. We recorded his visual intro to the video on opposite sides of the world, as Tony typically struggled with Wi-Fi in far flung regions of the Caribbean to get a Skype connection sufficient to do the job. I know he went above and beyond to find the time and the signal to make it happen because he knew what it meant to me. But that’s the guy Tony was.

Tony lived and loved cricket. The state of the game in his beloved West Indies in the last few years broke his heart and frustrated him in equal measure. His outspoken views on what the West Indian Cricket Board were doing to the game often landed him in trouble, but always came from his big, genuine heart.

But nothing made his eyes sparkle more than when he talked about his Granddaughters. These words, from one of his delightful, eloquent emails, were typical of his effusive comments on them:

My three precocious, delightful, stunning granddaughters keep me entertained and happy”

From his many charming stories, it’s clear they were cheeky, mischievous and highly entertaining. They take after their Granddad, then. That sparkle in his eye will surely live on with these bright young girls.

His parting words in his last email to me sum up perfectly everything he was to me.

I’ll raise a glass or two of champagne to you.

As always, Tony/Winston/His Excellency/Whatever”

It wasn’t widely known that his first name was Winston, (Tony coming from his middle name Anthony) and he liked it that way. Tony, Winston, you were excellency itself. Tonight, I’ll raise a glass of my oldest Eldorado rum to you. My life is richer for having had you in it, and poorer for you having left it. Barbados, cricket, and my world, will never be the same again. RIP Winston.

 

 

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No whitewashes, just the Ashes

It would be an outright lie if I said I didn’t care who wins the Ashes. I wear a team Cook t-shirt, not team Clarke. But I certainly don’t want to see a 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies. A close fought series, a taster of which we had at Trent Bridge throughout the first Test, should be what every cricket fan craves.  Of course I want England to win more of the tense, edge of your seat, say goodbye to your nails type games, but who wants the series to be over with two Test’s left to play?

The greatest Ashes series in recent memory have been decided in the final Test: 2005, 2009, 2010/11. Yes these were all England victories, but even if they hadn’t been, they’d still be remembered for hard fought, exciting, enthralling Test cricket. Despite coming into this series as underdogs, Australia have proved they’re not to be taken lightly.

The pendulum of favour swung so much at Trent Bridge that it had to check in to a spa retreat for three days of yoga and relaxation before the onslaught begins again at Lord’s. Round one, in the form of the toss, went to England, but it wasn’t long before the tourists took control to bowl out England for 215.

At 117-9 England had it back. Then came Ashton Agar: the no.11 teenage batsman that smashed all the records for the last man in, and created a twitter #Ashtag whilst en route to 98 runs. Gritty innings from Cook and Pietersen poised the game in the balance, with a superb and determined century from Bell once again making England the bookies favourites. The penultimate swing came on the final morning, when the last wicket partnership for Australia between Brad Haddin and James Pattinson gave the Australians hope of an unlikely victory. The final twist in the tale came with a half hearted England review that revealed a gentle kiss of the ball on Haddin’s bat on it’s way to Matt Prior’s gloves, to give England victory by 14 runs. Tense stuff.

If headlines and column inches counted for anything, the winner of the first Test would be the hotly debated Decision Review System and, to a lesser extent but undoubtedly entwined, the umpiring. Australia seem incapable of using the DRS to their best capacity. Forget net sessions and hours in the gym, Clarke and his men want to spend some time learning how to utilise the DRS before round two. As the first Test proved, it can be a game changer.

Since it’s first appearance in modern cricket, more often than not one or two DRS incidents have been talking points in a match. But it simply dominated this Test. No doubt there are followers of the Baggy Green claiming that if it weren’t for the DRS they would have won this Test. By the same token, had Haddin seen Australia across the line, the England faithful would be debating the Agar ‘stumping’ decision in pubs across the land.

Clarke lost seven out of nine DRS reviews. It’s there for the howler, which is a word that can definitely be attributed to the Broad incident. Umpire Aleem Dar missed a nick so big it had it’s own postcode, but Clarke had used his two reviews, and Broad stood his ground, as is his right. Whilst Broad has been rebuked for failing to uphold the ‘spirit of the game’, fault plainly lies with the umpire.

Agar, Broad and the DRS were the talking points of this first Test.  But they should now be left behind, as the steamroller of the Ashes presses swiftly on to Lord’s. Both teams have things to think about before Thursday. England will already know whether Finn remains in the side at his home ground, on a wicket that will suit him better than that of Trent Bridge, or whether Onions or Bresnan will take that final spot, the latter strengthening the batting line up.

Australia, as well as genning up on the DRS system, are likely to be thinking about Ed Cowan’s place in the team, and whether Warner might return from his seat on the naughty step after punching England batsmen Joe Root in a nightclub during the Champions Trophy. It’s possible they are considering playing spinner Nathan Lyon, in place of the inexperienced Agar, adding to the records he now holds. Has anyone ever scored 98 on debut and been dropped?

Despite needing a health warning for those with heart conditions, the first Test of this series was what the Ashes is all about: riveting, unmissable Test cricket. Here’s to four more of the same.

Batting for bones

Did you know that you can only build your bone strength up to the age of around 30? No, me neither! Not something a 31 year old wants to learn.  But learn it I did last night at an event to launch the new partnership between the National Osteoporosis Society and Chance to Shine, The Cricket Foundations programme to regenerate competitive cricket in state schools.

Like many people my age, I had never really given Osteoporosis much thought. Fragile bones are an issue commonly associated with much older people. So it was a startling revelation to learn that you can only deposit into your ‘bone bank’ for a limited time. When you reach an age where Osteoporosis is more likely to be a concern, it’s too late to start thinking about your bone strength.

That is why this partnership between the NOS, who need to get their message to a younger audience, and CTS, who have exactly that audience, is such a brilliant marriage. The children in the CTS programme are already involved in sport, and are therefore in the perfect place to have the importance of exercise and proper nutrition from an early age passed on to them.

It is hard enough to get children to think about what might happen a week, month, or year ahead, let alone 40 years down the line. But hopefully with this new partnership, the important lessons of ‘building stronger bones’ will be delivered by CTS coaches and ambassadors (including many professional and ex-professional cricketers), and will get through to a previously hard-to-reach audience. It makes sense in theory. For the sake of our future generations, let’s hope the message gets through.

NOS: http://www.nos.org.uk 

CTS: http://www.chancetoshine.org

 

A seat at Lord’s

Today I am at the Home of Cricket, Lord’s, for the CB40 final between Warwickshire and Hampshire. Both teams are looking to ‘do the double’, having already found success this season (Warwickshire won the Championship, Hampshire the t20 Cup).

The last time Warwickshire won double in a season was way back in 1995, when they were still basking in the glory of being the first (and still the only) team to ever be triple champions. It is perhaps now a much less likely feat to be achieved; it would require total victory of a season as we now have only three domestic competitions, in three very different formats. For one club to dominate in all three would truly be something special. So it is likely that Warwickshire will maintain the accolade of sole achievers for some time.

Anyway, I digress. The last time I saw Warwickshire in a final at Lord’s was the in one competition that they didn’t win (the Natwest trophy) in that hugely successful season of 1994. Things were very different then. I was a chubby 13-year-old ‘Junior Bear’, sandwiched excitedly between my father and brother in our seats, spellbound by the action, turning frequently to my father to ask enthralled questions. “Why are they clapping?” “What just happened?’ “Who’s bowling now?” “Are there any sandwiches left?” “What do you mean, “shut up and watch the bloody game”?” Warwickshire lost, of course. Some would say it was the fault of the Warwickshire batsmen, who only managed 223 off their 60 overs. Or the bowlers, who allowed the Worcestershire players to reach their target with more than 10 overs to spare. But my kindly brother Simon had other ideas, convincing me that it was my fault. “We’ve won all the finals you didn’t come to,” he said. “You’re a bad luck charm.” Sorry Warwickshire. Sorry fans.

As I sit here at Lord’s today and think back on that final, the contrast between then and now is striking. Little could I have imagined as I sat here 18 years ago screeching the infamous Warwickshire chant: “you beeeeeeaaaaars”, how different things would be the next time I saw the Bears in a final at Lord’s. Today I sit here in a rather different seat – in the press box, and to my left and right, distinguished (?!) cricket writers tap away on their laptops. And the Warwickshire scarf hanging around my neck in 1994 has been replaced by my press pass.

I am very grateful for the privileged seat that I sit in here today. But the only reason I am here is because of days like 3rd

September 1994, one of many days that my wonderful Dad took me to see Warwickshire, patiently explained what was happening, and nurtured my love of the game that remains strong today. He’s here again today, and no doubt I will go and sit with him awhile and enjoy the game, just like we did all those years ago. But I’ll be hoping for a different outcome for Warwickshire today, if only to finally prove my big brother wrong.