Now top commentator and famously poor time-keeper really is the late CMJ
CRICKET:The cricket world knew him as CMJ, initials that became synonymous with the very best in cricket journalism, spoken and written
The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins. We always said it had a pertinent ring to it, because generally that is what he was. And now he really is. It is hard to believe. I last saw him at the end of October when a few of us went to visit him in Sussex.
He was between treatments and quite perky. We took him to the pub for lunch and he paid, which is pretty much when we realised how ill he was.
The cricket world at large knew him as CMJ, initials that became synonymous with the very best in cricket journalism, both spoken and written. Then one day, he arrived to set up shop in the press box. “Hampshire won,” he announced by way of greeting. “Did it, Major?” was the immediate response, reprising Fawlty.
He was known as the Major ever since. And through his entire working life, the Major championed cricket and cricketers of all abilities. The game has lost perhaps the best friend it ever had.
For many years he had been not just colleague but friend, travelling and dining companion, and golfing partner. If ever I write an autobiography, I once told him, I shall call it Waiting for the Major, because that is what I seemed to spend much of my time doing. To this day I have a text template specifically for him that reads: “Where the f*** are you?”
He would always try to cut it finer than a sushi chef and mostly failed. Only the Major, staying at his “club” during London Test matches, could not only turn up late for the start of the match, but do so at Lord’s when the game was at The Oval. Only the Major could turn up at the Rose and Crown in Snettisham when he should have been at the Rose and Crown in Bury St Edmunds two hours away.
Only the Major could arrive late on the first tee on a busy day at Caymanas in Jamaica, to realise he was still wearing his sandals, and that his new clubs had bubble wrap on them. These clubs incidentally were to replace those that centrifugal force had, unknown to him, ejected from his golf bag at regular intervals as he careered his Mini Moke through central Bridgetown in Barbados and which he never retrieved.
He was of course, running late at the time.
Stories of the Major have become embellished over the years, but almost all have their root in fact rather than the apocrypha.
The most famous is certainly true. He and I were due to drive from Montego Bay to Kingston and, of course, he was running late. Eventually he rushed out of the hotel, crammed his bags into the boot, climbed in and we left. Mobile phones were in their relative infancy then, but he announced the need to make a check call to his office on his, which he attempted, repeatedly stabbing the number into the keypad. That he was having no success was no surprise as he had in his hand the remote control from the hotel television, and, it transpired, had left his mobile neatly parked back in the room.
So many great memories of a kind, generous man. The week he spent each year with us on our post-season golf trip to Norfolk, trying, and inevitably failing, to win our version of the US Masters green jacket. One year, before the Open, he made a speech at the golf writers’ dinner at Royal St George’s (did I mention he was a most brilliant after-dinner speaker?), at which he sat next to Greg Norman, a former winner there. During the meal he told the Shark he too understood what it was like not to win a green jacket. I’m not certain Greg saw the funny side.
Here’s an image with which to finish, though. The 1992 World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand, became known as the karaoke tour because of the evenings spent seeking out karaoke bars. After the final, in Melbourne, we persuaded the Major to join us and within half an hour of saying he would never do anything like that, he was perched on a stool, crooning Love Letters in the Sand, including a whistling bit in the middle. God, he was happy that night.
The man known to listeners of BBC’s Test Match Special as “CMJ”, who has died of cancer at 67, was a top cricket commentator for 40 years on radio and occasionally on television. As a schoolboy he had written to BBC commentator Brian Johnston to ask how he might follow in his path. Johnston took him to lunch and told him to keep playing and watching cricket, and to practise commentating into a tape recorder.
He followed his mentor as cricket correspondent of the BBC, a job he performed for two spells, following those by being correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and the Times and editor of the Cricketer magazine. His retirement from the Times was followed by the presidency of MCC.