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Christopher Martin-Jenkins – meticulous and precise to the last day

Christopher Martin-Jenkins – meticulous and precise to the last day

Cricket commentator and writer Christopher Martin-Jenkins poses outside Buckingham Palace with his MBE, presented by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, on May 28, 2009 in London © Getty Images

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, fondly known as CMJ, passed away on January 1, 2013. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the respected broadcaster who was a pillar of Test Match Special (TMS) for 38 years.

As India painstakingly battled for survival in the last Test at The Oval during the torrid 2011 summer, I took a breather from the action by running down the steps of the OCS Stand. As I was making my way to the Ground Floor, a nattily-dressed, pencil-thin gentleman descended the stairs in front of me. The snatches of profile that caught my eyes seemed vaguely familiar. Perhaps he felt my eyes bearing down on his back a bit too keenly, and there was a subtle turn accompanied by a brief backward glance. The face was familiar enough to jerk a nod and a smile out of me, a gesture graciously returned from behind rimless glasses. There was sagaciousness of age, lines bearing the traces of experience and, curiously, the infectious enthusiasm of youth.

It was only when he disappeared towards the Vauxhall Central Turnstiles that the voice so often heard on Test Match Special (TMS) was turned on in the recesses of my memory, and recognition dawned. The man behind those thoroughly professional broadcasts, accurate with meticulous detail, sprinkled with an occasional giggle about a fishing analogy, or the suddencurious exclamation ‘Fotheringay Thomas’.

That was the last time I saw Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

He was diagnosed with cancer during the early days of 2012, after three Tests between Pakistan and England in the Gulf had already been precisely described in his inimitable voice from the TMS box. The final battle was brief, lasting a mere 10 months, before the New Year rolled in with the morose news of his demise.

Of his 67 years, as many as 38 had been spent behind the microphone as a part of the TMS team.Over 40 of them had been lived in and around the world of cricket as an analyst, broadcaster, journalist and administrator.

Childhood dream comes true

In many ways it can be said that ‘CMJ’ lived his life to the fullest, although the end was hastened by the cruel hand of fate.

To become a cricket broadcaster was the burning desire of his heart from the days of his first youth. As a schoolboy, like many of his fellow countrymen, he listened and watched rapt with magical wonder as Brian Johnston brought the spirit of warmth, joy and merriment to thousands of homes with his description of cricket laced with jolly cheer and humour. It had inspired Martin-Jenkins enough to write to Johnston and ask how he might follow in his path to the commentary box. The veteran commentator had taken him to lunch and advised him to keep playing and watching cricket, and whenever possible practise commentating into a tape recorder.

Martin-Jenkins heeded the advice. He did not set grounds ablaze with his cricketing deeds. He played for the Surrey second XI, but did not do enough to win his blue for Cambridge. But, he kept playing and watching cricket.

At the same time, apart from reading history, he did spend his years quite productively at the university. He won two half-blues for rugby fives. And it was at Cambridge that he met Judy Hayman, the girl who was to become his wife three years after he graduated.

Martin-Jenkins passed out of Cambridge in 1967 and was appointed deputy editor of The Cricketer magazine by EW Swanton. With Swanton already having achieved enough to delve into the domains of self-actualisation, the young journalist was required to perform most of the regular grunt work required to produce the magazine.

In March 1970 Martin-Jenkins left The Cricketer to join the BBC Radio Sports News department.  It was an era that introduced short, crisp and professional reports of sporting events and Martin-Jenkins, who insisted on using his full hyphenated name, seemed tailor-made for the job.

In 1972, years after his first interaction with Johnston, he joined the Test Match Special team for the first ever one-day international played in England. The following year he achieved his dream of commentating during a Test Match and he could not have chosen a batter setting. Garry Sobers and Rohan Kanhai got big hundreds at Lord’s and there was plenty of action to describe. Since then, ‘CMJ’ remained with the TMS team for every home season for the next 38 years.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins – meticulous and precise to the last day

Test Match Special commentators Christopher Martin-Jenkins (centre) with scorer Jo King (left) and Geoff Boycott (right) during the final Test between Pakistan and England at The Gaddafi Stadium on November 29, 2005 in Lahore. © Getty Images

A cricketing life

Martin-Jenkins succeeded his mentor, Johnston, as BBC’s cricket correspondent after the retirement of the legend in 1973. He remained in that post for the next eight years before returning to The Cricketer as editor in 1981. However, he continued broadcasting on radio and occasionally on television.

Down the years, he held the positions cricket correspondent at BBC, The Telegraph and The Times – while remaining an established pillar of TMS till the final arrow of fate struck him down with the deadly disease. His aptly named Ball by Ball remains a fascinating account of the history of Test Match Special and also a detailed history of the development of cricket broadcasting.

In 2007, ‘CMJ’was invited to deliver the prestigious MCC Spirit of Cowdrey lecture. The only other non-cricketer to be thus honoured was Bishop Desmond Tutu in 2008. Martin-Jenkins remains the lone cricket journalist to have delivered the address. In 2010, he also received a surprise invitation to become the president of MCC. Both these honours speak volumes about the respect with which the cricketing fraternity regarded Martin-Jenkins and his accomplishments.

Along with his radio and television commentary, Martin-Jenkins was also a talented mimic – good enough to make the final audition of the Cambridge University Footlights. This made him a much sought after and entertaining after-dinner speaker.

He also wrote and edited as many as 26 books, the final volume being his definitive autobiography – CMJ – a cricketing life.

Known to be absent-minded and chaotic in his time management, Martin Jenkins had been known to sometimes end up in a wrong ground for the start of a Test match. And although much loved as a commentator, writer and human being, hehimself was perhaps distinctly more proud of the cricketing achievements of his son Robin, who played First-Class cricket for Sussex.

However, cricketers, colleagues and listeners will continue to remember him as one of the greatest commentators ever.

On hearing of his death, Derek Pringle tweeted: “Desperately sad to hear that CMJ has passed away. Always engaging company and a superb broadcaster and journalist he will be missed by many.”
Ian Botham remembered him as: “A true gentleman.” 

John Agnew, who succeeded CMJ as BBC’s cricket correspondent, paid tribute to his contribution with the following words, “With modern media now preferring the views and experiences of former Test match cricketers, Christopher’s authority and respect was not gained from a high-profile playing career, but a deep-rooted love of the game linked to a strong protective instinct which helped him earn the most coveted position of president of the MCC

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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