OH, MY BECCA AND MY COZIER LONG AGO

by Clayton Goodwin

HERE’S TO THE MEMORIES OF ABSENT FRIENDS – AND AN AGE THAT WILL NEVER COME AGAIN

Tony Becca

While his name may not be so familiar to the general public as those of Tony Cozier, and even Joseph “Reds” Perreira, that of Tony Becca was synonymous with West Indies, and particularly Jamaican, cricket. A man of modest mien, Becca was the “man to go to” for sound information and opinion about the team, and the players, in the decades that West Indies bestrode the cricket world like a Colossus, and into the descent. Tony was the Gleaner, and, as far as cricket is concerned, the Gleaner was Becca. Lascelles Anthony Becca passed away in early 2019, a year in which, if his health had been better, his presence would have graced another World Cup competition in which West Indies would compete.

Becca was an accomplished player of several sports before he made his mark in press-boxes throughout the world from the mid-1970s. It was shortly after his debut that I gained the pleasure of knowing him as a professional colleague and personal friend with the World Cup in 1979, the West Indies tour to England in 1980, and the return series in the Caribbean that winter. For the last-named rubber Tony had left the Gleaner for the Daily News temporarily and I was privileged to step into his shoes for the Test Match at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown. Yes, that was the match in which Michael Holding bowled that over to Geoffrey Boycott. Who could forget it?

Tony mused often that his alma mater, Wolmer’s College, had sent six wicket-keepers to the West Indies side – Karl Nunes, Ivan Barrow, Gerry Alexander, Jackie Hendriks, Jeffrey Dujon and Carlton Baugh – and, he would add, “there should have been a seventh – Becca”. Yet he did as much for West Indies cricket with his pen/type-writer/computer as any of these fine gentlemen did with their gloves. Tony was in the firm tradition of Gleaner/Star cricket journalism as the somewhat flamboyant (Lawrence) “Strebor” Roberts and Jack Anderson whose life was terminated prematurely by assassins, as a result of mistaken identity, at the end of the day’s play in the Test Match against Australia at Sabina Park in 1978. That tradition is in present danger of dying out … across the Caribbean.

Becca’s passing was the second of two blows which had shaken the West Indian cricket media in less than two years. Winston Anthony Lloyd (Tony) Cozier had taken his final bow in May 2016. Tony Cozier, with the distinctive melodic Barbadian accent, was the master of the airwaves and the internationally recognised “voice of West Indian cricket”. His name is inevitably linked with those of John Arlott and Richie Benaud in the triumvirate of outstanding commentators. Cozier’s passing was felt the most keenly because there has been no acknowledged successor to fill his shoes – however inadequately. As the son of Jimmy Cozier, the doyen of the preceding generation, Tony was born into the purple of Caribbean journalism, a tradition which he extended in both quality and quantity. To the world beyond, his was the most distinctive West Indian voice of all – except possibly that of Bob Marley.

Although illness curtailed the number of years he was able to spend at the cricket grounds, Joseph “Reds” Perreira, who was born in Guyana and lives the latter part of his life in St Lucia, remains from that golden age of communication. While he may be comparatively less known outside the Caribbean community, Perreira is recalled fondly in the region, especially in the territories of the Eastern Caribbean. To achieve success on the air “Reds” had to overcome a childhood stammer. His renown extends beyond cricket – he is equally well-known at the athletics arena – and in sport administration. West Indies cricket has been well served by their broadcasters and journalists, but …..

As the team on the field of play is merely a shadow of its former glory, so, too, has the pen and the voice from the media centres been stilled. There are still a number of good commentators who would have excelled if the circumstances hadn’t been different. That is the point – the circumstances are different. With the shrinking influence of the written press, and the fragmentation of social media coverage, there is no opportunity for any writer, broadcaster, commentator to achieve even a measure of recognition. Fazeer Mohammed is recognised widely as being the best of those that have followed, but his name does not resonate with the public as did that of a Becca or a Cozier. The almost total disregard of the Caribbean media, especially the newspapers, for cricket does not help.

I remember a particularly sad day sitting next to Tony Cozier at the Birmingham Test Match in 2012. He explained that, although he still retained broadcasting accreditation through the BBC, no West Indian publication was prepared to commission him to write about the series and he had had to come to some arrangement with the Trinidad Express for him to be allowed into the press-box. A bare few years earlier competition for his services would have been high. It was as if local repertory theatres en masse had turned down a script by William Shakespeare. The fault lay not with the man but with the media.

And while the national press and television/radio have banged on and on about diversity in cricket … their own record in this respect has been appalling. The number of black reporters / commentators of West Indian heritage on the press benches has been abysmal and over these same years could be counted on the fingers of one hand – sorry, make that on the fingers of one finger. It is an age ago since the likes of the distinguished Jamaican academic Professor John Figueroa graced their presence. Though the way in which he was treated would not have encouraged others to follow his example. It is small wonder that for a time, with the administrators not seeming to be able to tell a black charlatan from the genuine article, that more of the former were granted accreditation than the latter.

There was a time that the UK West Indian press was thriving – about the same time that the West Indies cricketers ruled the world. There was also a radio service, which, however small, was relevant. I can remember back in the glorious summer of 1984 being part of a phone-in radio programme on Black Londoners (Radio London) hosted by Alex Pascall, the outstanding, and sadly under-valued, black broadcaster of the time, assisted by Juliet Alexander, and featuring former West Indies players Basil Butcher and Reg Scarlett. Interest was so great that the programme over-ran well into the evening.

When I arrived in Barbados in 1981, Louis Brathwaite, Sports Editor of the Barbados Advocate, introduced me to his editor, Robert Best, as “Tony”. On being corrected, he said that the name “Tony” was so synonymous with West Indian cricket writers that it had become generic – though I am not sure if Louis was tempted to use it himself. There was a time when it seemed to be very much like that. For a time Tony Becca and Tony Cozier dominated the pages of print, and the waves of the air, and now they are gone, and they have not been replaced.

Like the poet, Francis Thompson, I shall not be repairing to Lord’s this summer, even though invited to report on yet another series, because the press-box is very much “full of shades”  and I shall see only “a ghostly writer filing for the reading of a ghost, and I look through my tears to a soundless clapping host
Oh my Becca and my Cozier long ago”.

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