Wednesday 17 January 2018

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

The BBC's Test Match Special cricket correspondent for 39 years was known as 'The Major', writes Stephen Fay

IF CRICKET writing was a profession, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who died on New Year's Day aged 67, was the head of it. He became the deputy editor of the monthly Cricketer magazine five weeks before graduating from Cambridge in 1967, and went on to become the cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and the Times.

But he was best known as a broadcaster on Test Match Special, BBC radio's continuous commentary of Test matches. The fluency and authority of his clipped speech – he was known as "The Major" in the press box – summoned up reassuring memories of less turbulent times before Kerry Packer, television and one-day cricket. Asked where the fluency came from, he replied that he thought it must be God-given. His newspaper journalism lacked the resonance of his broadcasting, but when publishers wanted a list of the 100 greatest cricketers, they turned to Martin-Jenkins. He wrote a shelf-full of books, many about England tours overseas. But the voice is likely to remain longer in the memory than his literary output.

Martin-Jenkins' eminence and his loyalty to the game led eventually to the presidency of MCC in 2010, a rare achievement for a journalist. A confident speaker with a gift for timing, he was a popular figure. When he was honoured, he was becoming disenchanted with the heavy commercial emphasis of cricket's management and its client relationship with television. He had been regarded for many years as the natural heir to EW Swanton, the panjandrum of cricket writing on the Daily Telegraph, but towards the end of his life he claimed he had become more of a follower of the Guardian's John Arlott, who was the icon of cricket's anti-establishment.

Christopher Dennis Alexander Martin-Jenkins was born in Peterborough, England. His father was anxious that his three sons follow him into shipping, but Martin-Jenkins was already helplessly addicted to cricket. In his teens, he wrote a book about cricket's imaginary heroes, bound it, and ghosted a foreword by Brigitte Bardot. At Marlborough School, he became captain of cricket, and scored 99 against Rugby at Lord's (having run out two colleagues before losing his wicket).

When he went to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, cricket remained the priority. He had already had lunch at Broadcasting House with Brian Johnston, the BBC's leading cricket commentator, to find out how he might be able to emulate him, and he played competently enough to be chosen for two games with Surrey's second eleven. He remained devoted to club cricket. His Who's Who entry named nine cricket clubs of which he was a member.

His apprenticeship was served at The Cricketer under Swanton, who decreed that no staff member should ever write about football, which meant that Martin-Jenkins's contributions to the Telegraph were by-lined "Christopher Martin". He joined the BBC in 1970, and was appointed the BBC's cricket correspondent in 1973. Aged 28, he was still the quintessential public schoolboy, capable of making schoolmasterly corrections of idle errors of cricketing fact. Apart from an interlude back at The Cricketer, Martin-Jenkins held the BBC job until 1991, when he joined the Daily Telegraph. He soon became the regular winner of the Wisden Cricket Monthly's annual poll for the best cricket writer and continued to do so after he transferred to the Times in 1999.

Cricket had changed radically when he was still at the BBC. Kerry Packer had bought his way into cricket with a new form of the game for television, played in one day, often under lights, and in coloured clothing. Martin-Jenkins believed he had invented the term "pyjama cricket". He became fretful about the future of five-day Tests, especially after the introduction of even shorter Twenty:20 games. He never ceased to enjoy the rhythm of county cricket. He lived near Horsham in Sussex and supported the county team, especially after his son Robin gained a regular place. He looked more at home in a deck chair at Hove than in front of a computer in the press box.

When chosen to give the annual Cowdrey Lecture at Lord's in 2007 he enumerated his dislikes in modern cricket. He thought it was contemptible for a batsman not to give himself out when he knew he had edged a catch (Australians never do). He disliked overseas players infiltrating county cricket by means of EU passports; he disapproved of heavy bats, bigger boundaries and slow over-rates. It was a list that would have tripped off the tongues of many an ageing MCC member in the Pavilion.

His autobiography was published in 2012. Simply titled CMJ, it amounted to a long thank-you letter to everyone who had been involved in his rewarding cricketing life, especially his wife Judy, his two sons and a daughter, and including his God. By then, he was already suffering from lymphoma.

Sunday Independent

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