Why Sangakkara was chosen for Lord’s Speech: CMJ speaks to Rex

Rex Clementine, in The Island, 10 June 2011

 CMJ receives MBE from Prince Charles–Pic from Island

 CMJ at Laureus Media-Event for FOG, 3 April 2009 –Pic by Roberts

Doyen of cricket writers Christopher Martin-Jenkins receives his MBE from Prince Charles in 2009. He’s currently the President of MCC and was responsible for inviting Kumar Sangakkara to deliver the Lord Cowdrey Lecture on Spirit of Cricket at Lord’s on July 4th.  World renowned cricket broadcaster and doyen of cricket writers Christopher Martin-Jenkins added another feather to his cap when he was appointed as the President of the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the body that’s responsible for cricket’s laws and owns the historic Lord’s Cricket Ground, last year. CMJ, as he’s fondly known, has a colourful history as a cricket writer and broadcaster having covered cricket in all parts of the world. He has not missed an Ashes series since 1972 and possibly is the only journalist to have covered all ten Cricket World Cups.

The son of a Northamptonshire businessman, he graduated at Cambridge and did his first cricket writing for the Cricketer magazine before moving to the BBC, then to The Daily Telegraph and finally to London Times. “It’s the passion for the game and a determination to write, if I possibly could, that brought me into cricket writing,” CMJ told The Island. “I got a lucky break. I took some catches at short leg off an off-spinner called Jack Davis, who once got Bradman out for naught. He played for Cambridge. While I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, I got talking to him about how I should get into this profession. He then spoke to E.W. Swanton, who mentioned that there might be a job coming up at the Cricketer Magazine. Eventually I applied and got that job. That’s soon after I finished my university,” CMJ further said talking about his early days.

Ernest William (Jim) Swanton, who died 11 years ago, was a Cricket Commentator at BBC’s Test Match Special for 30 years and worked for The Daily Telegraph as well. Neville Cardus was another distinguished cricket writer before him and CMJ would have certainly read a lot of their writing. Did he have any role models in the early days? “No role models as such. But I really read a lot,” he said. “I probably didn’t read as much as I should have done on cricket. Soon after I joined The Cricketer, I used to read Swanton among others obviously. He gave me a copy of an Anthology of Roberts andGlasgow’s writing on cricket. That was a very a good example of writing.”

Over the years, CMJ also has been a great admirer of Sri Lankan cricket. “I do indeed. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to see as objectively as I can. I try to be fair.” During The Oval Test in 1998, which Sri Lanka won, following England coach David Lloyd’s bitter comments on Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action; he went on to point out the need to remain gracious in defeat. “I do have a great affection forSri Lanka. Often, their cricket is underestimated. Even this game, they have surprised a few people who were thinking thatEnglandhad won the Ashes conveniently forgetting what had happened in the World Cup.”

Does he agree thatSri Lankashould have got a three Test series againstEnglandmuch earlier than in 2001, when they ultimately received a three match series? “They should have probably. But having said thatEnglandwere the first countrySri Lankaplayed in Test cricket.Englandhave been very good at encouraging other countries. MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) in particular over the years played a missionary role in spreading the game and encouraging others to play as much as possible. MCC still sends about four tours a year to funny place likeChileandHong Kong. There has been a tour toGreeceat the moment. But I think people were slow to recognize just how solidly based cricket has been for many many years inSri Lanka.”

Does he have any favourite Sri Lankan cricketer? “Oh, that’s a tough one. That’s very difficult to answer. But I suppose Murali has been the biggest match winner. But of the batsmen very hard to differentiate between Aravinda and the two current heavyweights; Jayawardene and Sangakkara. They are all genuinely great players, but Murali is one of the great geniuses of cricket.”

CMJ reveals that for him the toughest challenge in covering cricket was coming to terms with technology involved in coverage of the sport that grew extensively in the last two decades. “I have never been very good on the technology. So I would say it’s more of a challenge to me than writing words usually. Getting a done copy across has been a problem especially in places likeIndiaandSri Lankawhere technology didn’t work brilliantly. That’s the worst part of my job I think. You write something and then for some reason you lose it and you have to do it all over again. That’s terrible. But otherwise, I don’t find it a tremendous challenge.”

Cricket writing has changed drastically since CMJ first started writing, particularly in the last three decades with live coverage of cricket on television gradually increasing. What are his observations on the way cricket writing has changed over the years? “The biggest change is that people feel they need to quote players instead of giving their own views on what has happened. I guess it’s because television has dominated the scene now and people always see things in greater details in the middle as a result of these very good replays and people are inclined to listen to what the commentators and ex-players say about it. To some extent they set the agenda I think.”

After television, the invention of internet meant that reporting on sports changed completely as publications provided almost equal importance to their website as much as what comes on print. As a result the role of a cricket writer changed too. “News has come very instantly than it was ever before. Earlier, If you try to read a morning paper, the summery of the day’s play, you’ve got to be aware that your readers might not have known anything that had gone on. But nowadays, they are very likely to know everything that had gone on. So you’ve got to approach it in a very different angle.”

The gradual change of the nature of job meant that the atmosphere at the Press Box too changed as journalists needed to update the happenings instantly for their publications’ internet version. “From the professional writers’ point of view, internet has taken the fun out a bit. You are never off duty. There’s always a responsibility to inform the people all the time. I don’t think press box is much fun as it used to be. There’s no time to talk because everyone is looking at their computers. Those days we used to be much more relaxed and had much more time for talking and joking. That’s a shame we don’t have it today. But I guess that’s how life is these days.”

At the age of 67, CMJ has now ceased to be the Chief Cricket Correspondent of London Times. FormerEnglandcaptain Michael Atherton has succeeded him. CMJ still writes the occasional piece for the paper but has been involved in BBC’s Test Match Special. Having been a prominent cricket writer for four decades, what advice would he give the younger generation? “It’s a very difficult profession to get into because there are lots of people who would love to do it. But, I would say if you write well and if you are passionately interested in the game it will come one day. Keep trying and the door will open somewhere if you really and badly enough want it.”

He also feels that once someone gets there, perseverance becomes vital as there is a tendency to take up other ventures that open up while functioning in the profession. “It’s very important. Knowing what you want to do and doing your very best by legitimate means to get the sort of job you want. It requires luck as everything else. But if you put in your heart and soul and build up your knowledge, you are much likely to succeed.”

Finally, he reveals that as the President of MCC why he opted to have Kumar Sangakkara to present this year’s Lord Cowdrey Lecture on Spirit of Cricket. Sangkakara on July 4th will become the first Sri Lankan and youngest ever to present the Lord’s lecture. “I did have a strong influence. The main reasons are one is the statuRe of Kumar Sangakkara who is a great contemporary cricketer, very articulate and experienced as a player. Then as the Cowdrey Lecture hasn’t been given by a Sri Lankan, we thought that it’s a good time to have him and I am sure he will be very good.

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