• 1945-2013

A doyen of cricket with a comic touch

Vic Marks
January 5, 2013
Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who has died aged 67, receives an MBE from Prince Charles in 2009 © Getty Images
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Far too prematurely we have lost the doyen of cricket correspondents. Over four decades Christopher Martin-Jenkins held three of the most coveted posts in his profession. He was the BBC's man from 1973-1991 (with a hiatus from 1980-85). Then he was correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1991-99 and for the Times from 1999-2008. All the while he was broadcasting so felicitously for Test Match Special. After all that he was appointed president of the MCC in 2010, a most prestigious post, rarely handed to someone who has not played first-class cricket, and one that was to give him great joy and a little heartache.

All of which qualified him for doyen status. CMJ was a consummate broadcaster. His clipped, precise tones soon became synonymous with the English summer, as did those similes, whose end could be so hard to predict - often he was not quite sure where they were heading himself. He was brilliant on the radio: clear, distinctive, and always at ease in front of a microphone, even if he had only just burst into the commentary box seconds before picking it up.

And when he wrote you could hear his voice. For many he was not only the voice of cricket but also the pen. On tour he would be engulfed by doting readers of the Telegraph or the Times and the Cricketer, and he would always give them the time of day, while some of his colleagues fled for cover. He would also be the first to welcome strangers or nervous teenagers on work experience in the commentary box.

Yet not many doyens have been a source of such hilarity. CMJ was often a catalyst for laughter, both wittingly and, perhaps not as often as we first thought, unwittingly. He was a superb speaker after dinner and a fine mimic. A slightly scurrilous story in the hands - or on the lips - of the perfectly polite, God-fearing English gentleman, educated at Marlborough and Cambridge University, somehow had an added piquancy.

There are countless anecdotes about CMJ and they are usually true. While cricket followers loved him, computers hated him and rebelled in his presence. It was a frequent occurrence for his employers to have to ship reinforcement laptops to any corner of the globe in which CMJ was operating. At home I once watched him buy an emergency replacement on the spur of the moment as he walked down the high street to the first day of Test cricket in Cardiff - at Marks & Spencer. He never ceased to amaze.

CMJ hated to swear. So when the ball obstinately decided to remain at the bottom of a deep, deep bunker another swish of the club would be followed by a yelp of "Fishcakes" or "Fotheringay-Thomas"

It is true that on a golf course in Jamaica he tried to ring his office with the TV remote control he had picked up on his way out of his hotel room. Even when he recognised his mistake he seemed disgruntled that the device did not get him through to London.

Then there was the golf club incident in Barbados, where CMJ borrowed a rather fine set of clubs from a generous host. He duly propped them up on the back of a mini-moke and, encouraged by his erratic driving, they surreptitiously fell out of the bag, one by one into the streets of Bridgetown. The following day on air there was the inevitable but unavailing appeal for anyone who happened to come across any stray golf clubs on the city's streets to return them to CMJ at the Kensington Oval.

Golf was important to CMJ. He revelled in the challenge and he could hit the ball a long way after intense and deliberate preparation. He was great fun to play with and against, partly because he was so competitive (it's not much fun trying to beat someone who doesn't care). He was known to play a second or even third provisional ball. A disobedient drive or putt would trigger a rich and individual vocabulary. CMJ hated to swear. So when the ball obstinately decided to remain at the bottom of a deep, deep bunker, another swish of the club would be followed by a yelp of "Fishcakes" or "Fotheringay-Thomas".

The only problem was getting him to the tee on time. CMJ did not like to be early for anything. That would inevitably mean that time was being wasted. And he hated to waste a second; he was always busy, writing articles, books and postcards to a demanding deadline. His fear of being early had one predictable consequence: he was often late, usually with a cast-iron explanation. He once described to me how he would set off in his car for The Oval from West Sussex with no time to spare and with a bowl of cornflakes, liberally sprinkled with milk, pinioned between his knees.

His devotion to the game was absolute; his judgement - as with every correspondent - was never flawless. He had a sentimental attachment to anybody who bowled out of the back of the hand, which sometimes blurred his objectivity, especially if that legspinner happened to come from Sussex, his home county.

CMJ with Viv Richards (left) and Vic Marks (right) at Headingley in 2007 © PA Photos
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CMJ followed his son Robin's career at Sussex as intensely as any father. "I'd like to put him in my England ODI squad in the Times," he once confided to me. "I really can't do that, I suppose." He paused for a moment before adding, "But you could put him in yours." How stoically - and professionally - he disguised his angst on air when Sussex had the impudence to make his son 12th man for a Lord's final; how justly proud he was of Robin's stalwart service for the county over a decade.

CMJ instinctively knew his stuff after so many decades soaking up the game. The last time I saw him, in November as England's tour of India was about to start in earnest, he declared: "They must play Panesar as well as Swann in the first Test. But they won't!" (They didn't; England lost in Ahmedabad but had the sense to rectify their error asap.) By then he was riddled with cancer. But he still cared passionately about what was going on in the cricket world.

And the cricket world cared about him. You will all mourn the doyen and the epitome of an English gentleman. Those of us lucky enough to work alongside him will also remember a warm, generous, slightly manic companion, who loved the game and sought to protect it like no other. It is wretched to contemplate a press box or a commentary box without him.

Vic Marks is cricket correspondent of the Observer and has been a summariser on Test Match Special for more than 20 years

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