Cricket Commentator and Gentleman – Christopher Martin-Jenkins, born January 20 1945, died January 1 2013 RIP

Freeman and I wish to offer our condolences to cricket on this man’s
death – in the same week at Tony Greig.

Here is the Daily Telegraph Obituary.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, the cricket commentator and writer, who
has died aged 67, held at various times the most coveted posts in his
profession, having been the game’s chief correspondent at the BBC, The
Daily Telegraph and The Times.

5:09PM GMT 01 Jan 2013

For good measure he was also editor of The Cricketer, and was asked to
be editor of Wisden. Such was his reputation and his popularity within
the game that in 2010 he became President of MCC, a rare honour for a
journalist, and one that had remained an aspiration even for the
Telegraph’s Jim Swanton.

As a radio commentator, Martin-Jenkins possessed neither the
descriptive virtuosity of John Arlott, nor the high-spirited
effervescence of Brian Johnston. Nobody excelled him, though, in what
he regarded as the first duty: that of giving a precise, clear,
well-informed and accurate account of every ball that was bowled and
every stroke that was played.

Only when that essential had been achieved did he venture upon
comment, humour and anecdote. It was an approach that must have
involved deliberate restraint, for no one was better versed in
cricketing lore.

Martin-Jenkins was also an excellent mimic, who in his Cambridge days
had had some success in cabaret, not least in a parody of Rudyard
Kipling’s If as enunciated by Edward Heath.

His writing displayed the same virtues of clarity and relevance as his
commentaries. Sharply aware both of the rules of grammar and of the
subtleties of phrasing, he would impatiently confront those who
presumed to alter his copy.
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Martin-Jenkins gets the giggles on air
01 Jan 2013

Martin-Jenkins loved cricket in general, not just the ultimate
challenge of a Test match. In his mind a prep school game could be
every bit as exciting as a one-day international. On the same
principle, as chief cricket correspondent he insisted that the county
championship should be covered as conscientiously as an Ashes series.

He especially warmed to cricket in its more intimate settings,
revelling in festivals such as Cheltenham and Scarborough, where he
could share gossip and drollery with fellow journalists. No man,
though, was ever further from being a dilettante. Compulsively
industrious, Martin-Jenkins always seemed ready to intensify the
pressure by taking on new work.

His professionalism, however, never eliminated a certain
unpredictability in practical matters. In particular, he conducted a
stormy relationship with his computer, more than once inflicting
terrible crises on himself by hitting the Delete instead of the Send
button.

Martin-Jenkins certainly loved his career; the strain it exacted,
however, sometimes left him exhausted, irritable and prone to attacks
of migraine. Fortunately, at a deeper level, serenity prevailed. His
Anglican faith certainly involved some accommodation with doubt;
nevertheless, he possessed the will and determination to believe what
he hoped might be true before being certain that it was.

So his natural buoyancy and optimism were sustained. It must have
helped, too, that he came from a family well-rehearsed in the
challenges and disciplines of professional success.

Christopher Dennis Alexander Martin-Jenkins, the second of three
brothers, was born at Peterborough, where his maternal grandmother
lived, on January 20 1945. His father worked in shipping for Ellerman
Lines, ending his career as chairman and managing director. His
mother, a doctor, came from a distinguished medical family.

Christopher passed his first two years in Ayrshire, after which his
parents moved to Prenton, a suburb of Birkenhead. Then, in 1951, his
father, promoted to his firm’s London office, bought a large house at
South Holmwood in Surrey.

From as far back as he could remember Christopher was captivated by
cricket. At an early age he would amuse himself by commentating on
matches, both real and fictitious. As a teenager he attempted his
first book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket, for which he improvised a
foreword by Brigitte Bardot: “Mes amis, je pense que cette [sic] livre
est superbe; non, merveilleux. J’adore le Cricket et j’adore cette
[sic] livre. Bonne chance.”

At St Bede’s prep school in Eastbourne, Martin-Jenkins gave every
promise of becoming a formidable player, alike with bat and ball.
Later, he captained the Marlborough XI, and scored 99 against Rugby at
Lord’s.

Going on to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, to read Modern History, he
had the satisfaction of obtaining the same degree in the subject, a
2:1, as his Fitzwilliam contemporary David Starkey.

Martin-Jenkins did not, however, achieve the cricket Blue that had
been predicted. Perhaps he cared too much; at any rate his natural
talent, when put on trial, suddenly seemed afflicted by nerves and
self-consciousness.

The disappointment was the more severe as his enthusiasm for the game
never flagged. Indeed, he felt that he reached his batting peak
shortly after leaving Cambridge, when he turned out for Surrey Club
and Ground. Later, in 1971, he played in a match for the county’s
second XI.

However demanding his career, Martin-Jenkins rarely refused a chance
to turn out in club cricket, whether for local sides such as
Cranleigh, Albury and Horsham, or for MCC, the Free Foresters, the
Arabs, I Zingari and the Marlborough Blues.

Despite his failure to gain a cricket Blue at Cambridge, he had the
satisfaction of leading Fitzwilliam to victory in cricket Cuppers, and
of obtaining a half-Blue for Rugby Fives. His undergraduate
enthusiasms, moreover, were by no means confined to sport. He was
brave enough to audition for the Footlights under the scrutiny of
Clive James, Germaine Greer and Eric Idle.

In his last year at Marlborough Martin-Jenkins had written to Brian
Johnston to ask how he might become a cricket commentator. His
ambition was reinforced by the kindness with which Johnston received
him.

After leaving Cambridge in 1967, however, he became an assistant at
The Cricketer, under the august editorship of Jim Swanton. His first
feature article, “In Defence of Professionalism”, caused the great
panjandrum to dissociate the magazine from the views expressed.

Fortunately, when Richie Benaud’s copy failed to turn up,
Martin-Jenkins was able to gain kudos by improvising a piece under the
great Australian’s name.

After three years at The Cricketer he passed on to the more intense
atmosphere of the BBC Radio Sports room, then run by a formidable and
frequently vitriolic Scotsman called Angus Mackay, who liked to
declare that his door was always open to everyone.

Martin-Jenkins rashly took him at his word and ventured a criticism of
one of the programmes, with the result that Mackay never again spoke
directly to him. Nevertheless, the tyro was tough enough to survive
and eventually flourish in this most stressful of departments.

In 1973 he took over from Brian Johnston as the BBC’s cricket
correspondent, a promotion which intensified his lifelong campaign
against the predominance of football coverage. Another of his duties,
which brought his name to national notice, was to present the sports
slot on the Today programme.

From the moment he joined the BBC, Martin-Jenkins had pressed Outside
Broadcasting for a trial as cricket commentator, and in May 1970 he
passed his first audition. His debut before the public came at Old
Trafford in August 1972, during the first one-day international to be
played in England, against Australia. For the rest of his life he
would be a member of the BBC’s commentary team.

It was not until 2008 that Martin-Jenkins, the voice of sober
responsibility, unintentionally produced one of those “corpsing”
sexual innuendos which afford listeners such merriment: “Broad runs
in, he bowls, and this time Vettori lets it go outside the off stump.
It was a good length, inviting him to fish, but Vettori, so to speak,
stayed on the bank and kept his rod up.”

From 1974 to 1981 Martin-Jenkins passed most of his winters covering
England’s overseas cricket tours. On the whole he enjoyed the
experience; however, the desire to be with his growing family caused
him to change direction in 1981, when he accepted an invitation to
become editor of The Cricketer.

This meant a much reduced salary, which encouraged him to accept extra
work, necessary at once for the payment of school fees, and for the
financing of the large house which he bought at Rudgwick, near
Horsham, in 1983.

Although he officially left the BBC in 1981, the Corporation retained
him for Test Match Special, and also gave him the chance to do some
television commentary. Radio, however, remained his staple.

Martin-Jenkins had already published several books, most importantly
The Complete Who’s Who of Test Cricketers in 1980, a monumental effort
which has retained its place as an essential reference book.

Now he found time to produce The Wisden Book of County Cricket (1981);
Bedside Cricket (1981); Twenty Years On: Cricket’s years of change
(1984); Cricket: a way of life (1984); Grand Slam (1987); Cricket
Characters (1987); Sketches of a Season (1987); and Ball by Ball
(1990).

In addition he edited Cricketer Book of Cricket Eccentrics (1985);
Seasons Past (1986), and Quick Singles (1986). Only a workaholic and
an exceptionally fluent writer could have achieved as much in his
spare time.

From 1984 to 1991, moreover, he resumed his position as cricket
correspondent of the BBC. He was also much in demand as an
after-dinner speaker, winning many plaudits, albeit disturbing the
feminist lobby on one occasion with an untoward remark about Martina
Navratilova.

In 1991 Martin-Jenkins changed tack once more, becoming the chief
cricket correspondent of The Daily Telegraph . So effective were his
columns that in 1999 he was poached by The Times. Nine years later he
handed over the reins at that paper to Michael Atherton, though he
continued to contribute articles.

Meanwhile, the cricket books continued to flow: Summers Will Never Be
the Same (1994); an anthology, The Spirit of Cricket (1990); An
Australian Summer (1999); Men for All Seasons (2001); and The Top 100
Cricketers of All Time (2009).

In 2009 and 2010 Martin-Jenkins’s health seemed to be weakening, a bad
bout of pneumonia being followed by acute hepatitis. His career,
however, was crowned by his appointment as President of MCC for
2010-11.

His time in office coincided with the controversy over “Vision for
Lord’s”, a plan to build five towers of flats at the north of the
Nursery ground, while installing the cricket school and museum under
that field. Some £100 million of the profit, it was envisaged, would
be devoted to improving the capacity and facilities at the main
ground.

Many MCC members, Martin-Jenkins among them, had doubts about both the
aesthetics and scale of the plan. When Robert Griffiths, QC, as head
of the development committee a leading protagonist for the scheme,
attempted to exert pressure on the chairman and treasurer of MCC,
these two dignitaries issued a counter-threat.

Either the development committee should be wound up, they announced,
or they would stand down from their offices. At a stormy meeting in
February 2011, Martin-Jenkins helped to ensure that the former course
was chosen.

Far more pleasurable were the social responsibilities of the
presidency. In particular, he enjoyed visiting Australia (and doubling
as a BBC commentator) when England retained the Ashes in 2011.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins was appointed MBE in 2009.

In 2012 he published an autobiography, CMJ: a cricketing life.
Typically of its author, it was largely about other people. The book
did make clear, however, that, outside cricket, the great loves of his
life were Sussex, golf and, beyond all else, his family.

He married, in 1971, Judith Hayman, with whom he had two sons and a
daughter. Their younger son, Robin, proved a successful county
cricketer for Sussex.