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Obituary: Christopher Martin-Jenkins, cricket commentator

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Christopher Martin-Jenkins was fondly known throughout the cricketing world as CMJ and was an integral part of the Test Match Special team on Radio 4.

Born: 20 January, 1945 in Peterborough. Died: 1 January, 2013, in Sussex, aged 67

He painted a vivid picture of the events on the field alongside happenings in the crowd and an in-depth account of the daily supply of chocolate cakes. Martin-Jenkins remained somewhat aloof from the badinage in the commentary box but his shrewd reading of a game brought delight, for 40 years, to millions.

He was also a renowned sports journalist working for The Cricketer, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Such was the esteem in which he was held within the game, and despite never having played first-class cricket, that Martin-Jenkins was appointed president of the MCC in 2010.

The BBC’s current cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, said yesterday: “With modern media now preferring the views and experiences of former Test cricketers, Christopher’s authority and respect was gained not through a high-profile playing career but a deep-rooted love of the game.”

Christopher Dennis Alexander Martin-Jenkins was the son of a senior executive with the Ellerman Shipping Lines. His father’s work brought him to Scotland after the war and Martin-Jenkins spent his first few year in Ayrshire.

In 1951 his father was transferred to the London office and they lived in Surrey. He attended Marlborough College where he captained the 1st X1 and scored 99 against Rugby at Lord’s.

He then read Modern History at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge; not gaining a cricket Blue but winning a half-Blue for Rugby Fives.

Before leaving Marlborough Martin-Jenkins had written to Brian Johnston at the BBC about a career as a cricket commentator. With typical courtesy Johnston took him out to lunch and followed his progress at university.

His lack of success on the field had not diminished Martin-Jenkins’ devotion to cricket. In 1967 he became an assistant at The Cricketer and three years later joined the BBC Sports Unit. In 1973 he took over from his mentor, Brian Johnston, as the corporation’s cricket correspondent.

Martin-Jenkins was keen to join the Test Match Special team and the astute producer Peter Baxter gave him his opportunity at the first one-day match at Old Trafford in 1972. It was, of necessity, a high profile event made more so by the match being between England and Australia.

His gracious manner and wide cricketing knowledge – allied to a calm delivery – made him ideal addition to the famous Test Match Special team. It was a post he held with much distinction for the rest of his life.

He seldom got involved with the antics in the commentary box – although in one of those early games Martin-Jenkins fell foul for the famous Johnston trick of being passed a slice of cream cake and then being asked a question when his mouth was full.

In 1981 he was appointed editor of The Cricketer but he continued to commentate and published several books on the game, most significantly The Complete Who’s Who of Test Cricket.

From 1984 to 1991 he returned to the BBC as its cricket correspondent and became a popular after-dinner speaker.

In 1991 Martin-Jenkins was appointed chief cricket correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and took on a similar post at The Times in 1999. Nine years later he was succeeded by Michael Atherton although he continued to write for the paper.

Notably, and despite his considerable ill-health, Martin-Jenkins wrote a generous and charmingly personal piece after the death of Tony Greig last week.

Martin-Jenkins was particularly honoured when he became president of the MCC. The history of cricket and, indeed, Lords had been a central factor throughout his life and the pleasure he took in being able to watch Test Matches and entertain old friends in his box or in the Long Room afforded him much pleasure.

It was not, however, a trouble-free year. The proposal to build five tower blocks at the Nursery End (a Vision for Lord’s) costing £100 million caused major controversy. It is thought that Martin-Jenkins had severe reservations about the plans, which led to much acrimony among the members.

Among the millions of devoted Test Match Special listeners, CMJ was a byword for clarity and an accurate – gimmick-free – 
account of the day’s play.

He did not have the romantic phrases of John Arlott, the Yorkshire bluster of Fred Trueman or the jocular jesting of Johnston. Instead CMJ was an informed observer of the game which he interpreted with a balanced honesty.

In many ways that was a shame as few others had a finer knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the game and its characters.

Martin-Jenkins, who was made an MBE in 2009, wrote many books on the game and his autobiography, CMJ – A Cricketing Life, was published in 2011. He is survived by Judy and their two sons and a daughter.

 

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