You could say it was the voice of the English summer – and now, in the depths of winter, it has been silenced.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins was Britain’s leading cricket commentator and for 40 years his precisely modulated tones conjured up for the nation white figures on a dazzlingly green pitch and the knock of leather on willow. Today he succumbed to the cancer that took hold a year ago. He was 67.
The passing of the much-loved former BBC cricket correspondent and president of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), universally known as CMJ, was met with a flood of tributes, led by his former colleagues on BBC’s Test Match Special.
“It is doubtful that anyone has contributed more in a lifetime to the overall coverage of cricket,” said the BBC’s current cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, who was a close friend. “CMJ was one of cricket’s most respected writers and broadcasters. Listeners to Test Match Special were all too familiar with his eccentricities – like going to the wrong ground for the start of a Test match. His legendary, chaotic time-keeping was very much part of his charm.”
Not least among the public’s memories of him will be an incident in the summer of 2008 when Martin-Jenkins, whose clipped speech led to his being nicknamed “the Major” in the press box, was rendered almost incapable of speaking by a fit of the giggles. Delivering his account of the New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori facing the English bowler Stuart Broad, Martin-Jenkins said: “Broad’s in, he bowls, this time Vettori lets it go outside the off stump, good length, inviting him to fish.”
Then, with his next comment, Martin-Jenkins’ composure deserted him. “But Vettori stays on the bank… and keeps his rod down, so to speak.”
Adam Mountford, producer of Test Match Special, said: “CMJ was a true gentleman who embraced the changes in cricket whilst acting as a guardian of its traditions and values. Quite simply he will be remembered as one of the legendary characters of cricket writing and broadcasting.”
Martin-Jenkins began his long career in journalism as assistant to E W Swanton, a stalwart of Test Match Special for 30 years. He had two spells as the BBC’s cricket correspondent and filled the same role at The Daily Telegraph and The Times. He gave up broadcasting when his cancer was diagnosed but continued to produce written reports.
Although never a Test cricketer himself, unlike many modern commentators on the game, he was a useful schoolboy player at Marlborough College and played two games in Surrey’s Second XI. He was greatly respected by all the leading players of recent years and took great pride in the career of his son Robin, who played first-class cricket for Sussex.
The former England captain Sir Ian Botham tweeted: “Very sad to hear of the death of the ‘Major’, Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Our thoughts are with the family. A true Gentleman.”
Charlotte Edwards, captain of England’s women, said: “Awful news of Christopher Martin-Jenkins passing away, true gentleman and fantastic servant to the game of cricket.”
Appointed MBE in 2009, Martin-Jenkins served as the MCC’s president in 2010 and 2011, which was a singular honour for a journalist. The current MCC president, Mike Griffith, said: “As a commentator and journalist he was passionate about upholding the values of the game and always expressed his views with clarity and humour.
“Everyone at MCC shares the sadness felt by the cricketing world that his commentaries will never be heard again. CMJ will be sorely missed.”