Elegant put-downs from a master of his craft


CMJ: A Cricketing Life, by Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Published by: Simon & Schuster


Christopher Martin-Jenkins, the sagely doyen of the Test match radio commentary box and the senior voice of the cricketing press, is far too polite to share every opinion he might have formed about his many colleagues over his career, even for the sake of selling extra copies of his forthcoming autobiography.

So don’t expect to find any hatchet jobs within the pages of CMJ: A Cricketing Life (Simon & Schuster), which will be in the shops from Thursday of next week (April 12).

Nonetheless, the serialisation of the book in The Times has some interesting if carefully worded observations about his co-commentators, some from years long gone but others of more recent vintage.

Fred Trueman, he said “like his fellow Yorkshireman, Geoffrey Boycott, could labour a point” while Trevor Bailey “was quite vague and imprecise when it came to the past.”

Never less than scrupulously fair, CMJ does credit Trueman with being “a peerless raconteur with an amazing memory“ while Bailey “as an assessor of current events, was sharp, pithy and an excellent judge of any player“.

Moving into more recent times, however, during which, with Peter Baxter giving way to Adam Mountford in the producer’s chair, there has been a change in the tone of the programme -- one that listeners used to its traditional, gently reverential style have not necessarily appreciated -- the observations become a little more pointed.

He says, for example that the team’s recent addition, former England captain Michael Vaughan, “has much to offer in interpreting the tactics and thought processes of the players“ but “has had to learn (like many before him) that the commentator needs time to set the scene, to give the score and to recap on events earlier in the day. There is nothing worse than listening for ages until he does.”

Vaughan could learn something, CMJ clearly feels, from another ex-England captain, Mike Atherton, with whom he would have liked to work for longer.

Atherton “had everything: humour, quick powers of observation and the all-important sense of rhythm and timing that most other former professional players acquire only with difficulty”

After only a brief stint on TMS, Atherton moved into television along with David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, whom CMJ reckons had a “sense of humour ideal for TMS.”  On both counts, he adds, “our loss has been Sky’s gain.”

If that might be interpreted as mildly critical of his BBC bosses for missing a trick, it is nothing next to the swipe he takes at them for the unexpected axing of his friend and former TMS regular, the former Middlesex, Glamorgan and England bowler, Mike Selvey.

Describing Selvey and Vic Marks as “the nearest equivalent to Trueman and Bailey in the latter days of [Peter] Baxter’s control of TMS” he says that Marks “with his famous chuckle, like an old engine starting up on the third or fourth turnover on a cold morning, is deservedly popular with everyone” and that Selvey “may not have the same warmth in his voice, but he knows all there is to know about the art of swing and seam bowling and has a subtle humour."

“Perhaps those," he adds, sharply "who suddenly decided to sever their links with Mike Selvey, after twenty-four years of contributing to TMS at home and abroad, will think again.”

Who is the author?

Christopher Martin-Jenkins made his debut on BBC radio’s iconic Test Match Special in 1973 and apart from a period in which he commentated for BBC television in the 1980s has been a member of the team ever since.  He succeeded Brian Johnston as BBC cricket correspondent in 1973, holding that position until he in turn was succeeded by Jonathan Agnew in 1991.  In print, CMJ has been cricket correspondent for both the Daily Telegraph (1990-99) and The Times (1999-2008). The author of more than 25 cricket books, he has also served as president of the MCC and was appointed an MBE in the 2009 New Year Honours.

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