Tony Greig and CMJ
by Adrian Tahourdin
What a terrible week it has been for cricket. First came the news of the death on December 29 of the great South African-born all-rounder Tony Greig, at 66. This morning we heard that the cricket commentator and author Christopher Martin-Jenkins has also died. He was 67. Both had cancer.
Much has been written about Greig’s huge contribution to the game: his swashbuckling style, aggressive batting, canny bowling and superb fielding; his inspirational captaincy and ability to play a crowd - as well as his occasional faux pas such as when he promised that he would make the 1976 West Indies team grovel, words rammed firmly down his throat. He took the humiliation with good grace.
And then there was his role in revolutionizing the game when, as the Australian tycoon Kerry Packer’s hired hand, he led a player revolt against the cricket establishment that resulted in international cricketers (in England at least) finally receiving a respectable wage. After that came three decades as an enthusiastic if not strident commentator on the game - “Right off the meat of the bat!” - in that broad South African accent he never lost.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins, or CMJ as he was universally known, was by contrast measured, precise and a master craftsman both as a cricket writer and commentator. To many (myself included) he remained the voice of cricket, his beautiful mellifluous tones crackling over the airwaves from Port of Spain to Delhi to Sydney. Phrases stick: “England are sinking, and sinking fast”; “Holding, gliding in from the Kirkstall Lane End” . . .
He was an expert scene-setter as well: if anyone could - in that perhaps overworked notion - make you feel that you were there, at the ground, CMJ could. He was also a stickler for correct usage and grammar, and a brilliant mimic.
Tony Greig (centre) and Alan Knott celebrate taking Ian Redpath's wicket, Melbourne, December 1974; from Christopher Martin-Jenkins's Assault on the Ashes: The MCC in Australia and New Zealand 1974/75
From a personal point of view, Greig and CMJ were most responsible for my obsession with the game which started when I casually turned on the TV one idle summer day in 1975 and watched Tony Greig make a brilliant 96 against Australia - Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson - at Lord's in his first Test as England captain. I was hooked, and subsequently discovered Test Match Special commentary on Radio 3, with John Arlott, Brian Johnston and CMJ permanent fixtures at the mike.
In a short tribute to Tony Greig published in The Times yesterday, Christopher Martin-Jenkins talked of the care Greig will have received in his final days from “wonderful health workers”. How poignant that generous comment now seems.