Tony Cozier Unplugged (Part 1)

Tue, Apr 20, '04

by MICHELLE MCDONALD

interviews [ Part One] | [ Part Two]

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 like 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.

** Look for part two of our interview with Tony Cozier, where he discusses the captaincy skills of Brian Lara, the performance of the selection panel, the emergence of WIPA as a militant union and the role of the Caribbean media (including CaribbeanCricket.com!)