CMJ simply adored cricket with a passion... and it showed
Stephen Brenkley remembers a loveable commentator who radiated knowledge and became part of the game's fabric
Christopher Martin-Jenkins was warm, witty and engaging. He adored cricket with a passion that never subsided and, whether as radio commentator or newspaper correspondent, his love and knowledge radiated.
For almost 40 years he was simply part of the fabric of the game and its peculiar place in English society, and he achieved that rare distinction of being recognised by all and sundry by his initials alone. Everybody knew who CMJ was.
He died today at the age of 67 after being diagnosed with cancer last winter, on his return from commentating duties in the UAE in the Test series between Pakistan and England. Although he never returned to the microphone, he kept writing on the game until a few days before his death. As Jonathan Agnew, CMJ’s successor as the BBC’s cricket correspondent, said yesterday: “It is doubtful that anyone has contributed more in a lifetime to the overall coverage of cricket than Christopher Martin-Jenkins.”
Endlessly good-natured, he was also naturally ham-fisted, frequently flummoxed by the world, particularly in its modern form, and he had an inveterate ability to be late for everything. On Test Match Special, indeed, he was known fondly as the late CMJ.
Stories about his grappling with technology are endless and technology usually won. The unfair struggle reached its nadir in January 1998 at Kingston when the first Test between West Indies and England was abandoned after 61 balls because the pitch was dangerous.
CMJ duly wrote his copy for The Daily Telegraph, of which he was then cricket correspondent, but just as he was about to send the copy electronically to the paper in London, he hit the wrong button.
Two carefully crafted pieces disappeared into the ether never to return from it. CMJ was forced to dictate the reports, comprising 3,000 words in all, while reggae blasted from the stadium’s PA system.
His lateness was a combination of absent-mindedness, which he usually denied in an absent-minded kind of way, ensuring that he had everything he needed, and common courtesy, which often manifested itself on his way to a TMS stint when he would be much too polite to interrupt the chap who had stopped him for a chat.
He probably tried to cram too much in and his diligence as cricket correspondent for the BBC from 1973 to 1991 (with a short break), The Telegraph from 1990 to 1999 and The Times from 1999 to 2008, was legendary. A long-time member of MCC, of which he became president, he used his contacts there prudently.
If CMJ was the most widely read and respected of all national newspaper cricket reporters (there were polls to say so) it was probably his TMS commentaries which propelled him there. He was an absolute joy to listen to on a passage of Test cricket where nothing was happening and where everything was.
He was concise, lucid and erudite, and what he said was what was actually going on out there. There are a couple of outstanding commentators around now on TMS but CMJ called the game early and accurately.
As an after-dinner speaker he was much sought after because he was brilliant. In the autumn of 2011, when he was beginning to feel slightly ill, he and I were due to appear at the same dinner in Sussex, he as president of the organisation concerned.
He arrived late but in the nick of time from another bash in London at lunchtime. Not having expected to do much but introduce the speaker, it was suddenly requested of him that he say a few words too. He dashed off a few notes during my witterings and offered a tour de force performance which brought the house down.
A few years ago he saved a Cricket Writers’ Club annual dinner from complete disaster by stepping in as guest speaker at the last minute. His mimicry and his jokes were wonderful, as they were when he was president of the club for its 65th anniversary luncheon in the Long Room at Lord’s.
As he said in his autobiography, published last year, cricket had been the central theme, if not the only one, since boyhood. He was a pretty good player, who might have won a Blue at Cambridge in other times, and still played a free-flowing cover drive into his sixties.
CMJ would often remark on how lucky he had been in life, to have been paid for something he was passionate about and to have been rewarded for it in other ways such as being made an MBE and becoming MCC president.
He liked to tell after-dinner audiences about it, which also revealed something about his deep and abiding marriage to Judy, his charming wife.
The story went like this. “I asked my wife not so long ago, ‘Did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, I’d achieve all that?’
“‘To tell you the truth, darling,’ she replied, ‘I’m not sure you’ve ever appeared in my wildest dreams’.”
The voice of cricket: Famous quotes
“We don’t need a calculator to tell us that the required run-rate is 4.5454 per over.”
“Broad’s in, he bowls, this time Vettori lets it go outside the off stump, good length, inviting him to fish... But Vettori stays on the bank and keeps his rod down, so to speak.
“Gul has another ball in his hand and bowls to Bell who has two.”
“What a triumph it would be if he was still batting at 6 o’clock this evening” Martin-Jenkins when Ian Botham entered the crease in the second innings at Headingley in 1981. Botham was still batting the next day to help England beat Austalia.
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