The death of Christopher Martin-Jenkins severs another link between modern day cricket journalism and the few pioneering writers who took the profession forward in the post-war years. CMJ, as he came to be known, effortlessly bridged that gap between the likes of John Arlott and CLR James, the enlightened observers of the sport, and the modern-day reliance upon former professional cricketers with a gift for a finely turned phrase or observation.
It was typical of the man that he did so with style and panache. Long before the phrase ‘pay it forward’ had been coined, CMJ was a practitioner of the art, being as generous with his time, advice and encouragement to aspiring writers as his idol and later colleague Brian Johnston had been to him. Few things signified how ill he was in the last weeks of his life than the unseemly row which one of his last newspaper columns generated with a new generation of putative writers and broadcasters, his usual deftness of touch when opining upon a controversial subject deserting him at the end.
To millions, he was a mainstay of Test Match Special, providing the voice of well-bred common sense amid the hyperactive tomfoolery of Johnston, the amiable buff Henry Blofeld and the prosaic Arlott. But he was also twice cricket correspondent of the BBC (his initial stint being as replacement for Johnston), switching effortlessly between commentary, opinion and reportage in a way which others have sometimes failed to replicate, as well as bringing his writing skills to the Telegraph and later the Times.
As a writer his columns were a ‘must-read’ for any fan of the game, especially one who had in those pre-internet days been unable to follow play as it developed. His gift for reducing the day’s action to its most essential components, with insightful analysis, has been bettered by few and is almost certainly a dying art. His final retirement from the Times in 2008 and replacement by the more self-aggrandising Michael Atherton was a sad day in more than one respect.
Away from the media CMJ was a fine after dinner speaker, a golfer so keen that he even had three pitch and putt holes in his back garden, and a devoted family man who took great pride in his son Robin’s career in first-class cricket, even if he was often reluctant to talk about it.
Christopher Dennis Alexander Martin-Jenkins, 20 January 1945 – 1 January 2013
The first Test I saw live was the Second Ashes Test of 1977. The first two days had been school trips, all raucous laughs and dodgy stories from the bigger boys in the back seats, but the third day was spent with my father and my brothers. My dad didn’t care for the big South African in the England middle-order, but he liked the way he stood so very close at silly point and we liked the way he lifted the only six we saw during three days watching,away , up and over the sightscreen. That’s what Tony Greig did throughout his life in cricket – find a way to make people dislike him and like him at the same time.
As a player, he was unfortunate to be followed by the golden age of all-rounders (one that the schedules have ensured will never come again), so he is seldom placed in the front rank of those gifted enough to warrant a place through either skill. But he was a great all-rounder – a stand and deliver attacking middle-order batsman, a bowler who could bowl handy medium pace or off-breaks that bounced and turned and a fielder whose physical presence and reach was used to great effect anywhere around the bat.
He knew all this and so did those around the game, but the two defining moments of his life meant that the public and the media (of the time) never seemed to acknowledge his talents as a cricketer - a wrong that was righted a few months ago with some wonderful appreciations of his monumental seven hour century at Eden Gardens to set up England’s series victory over India in 1976/77.
Those two defining moments were, of course, the “Grovel” comment prior to the West Indies all-conquering tour of England in 1976 and the handshake with which he sealed the deal with Kerry Packer to be his recruiting sergeant for World Series Cricket.
In the age before sport saturated the media, nobody really understood mind games and Greig, typically, had seen the future and leapt into it without really thinking it through. “Grovel” was a gauche attempt to gain a psychological edge over players that he knew were better than the ones at his disposal. It hardly helped that it came in the accent of a white South African, an accent he never attempted to modify. He did the wrong thing in every sense, but had the good grace to leave The Oval on his hands and knees to the delight of the throngs of West Indians in the crowd – the “Grovel” man had been made to grovel by one of the greatest teams in history. Mind games were to become more sophisticated – and more tedious – in the future.
Though better understood now, many have never forgiven Greig’s role in World Series Cricket, particularly the subterfuge involved in signing up players whilst still England captain – but revolutions are never pleasant to observe close-up. History was on Packer’s side, as so many other sports have shown, and the balance of power was always going to swing towards the players – had the semi-feudal administrators of the game seen that and done something about it, the unpleasantness, the court cases and their humiliation would have been avoided. Kerry Packer knew the debt he owed to his point man and honoured his word by giving Greig a job for life in television where he has been an ever-present for thirty years or more. Greig’s media work divided opinion too – but I don’t suppose he minded that, as he enjoyed plenty of spats in the box with Bill Lawry et al.
Greig was much more than just a cricketer, but it is as a cricketer that he should be remembered first and foremost. And, as his Test record shows (3599 runs at 40 and 141 wickets at 32, playing his last Test at 30) he was a very, very fine cricketer indeed.
Harry Pilling (invariably Little Harry Pilling) was a constant presence in Lancashire’s triple Gillette Cup winning side of the 70s – what might be called the golden era of one day county cricket.
In the first of that glorious hat-trick of victories (1970), Pilling was an unlikely Man of the Match for his 70 not out, batting through from 33-1 to 185-4 with the clear head and calmness under pressure that was his finest attribute. A year later, he was in the middle again, as Jackie Bond effected his iconic catch to dismiss Asif Iqbal, who had been winning the game for Kent off his own bat. In 1972, it was the man with whom he always appears in the mind’s eye, Clive Lloyd, who guided Lancashire to victory with a century at Lord’s, the genius of which he was to repeat in the World Cup Final that still lay three years in the future. The magic was fading from “The One Day Kings” by 1974, as Lancashire went down to Kent in a match in which 240 runs were scored in 107 overs – things were different then. Harry played in one more Gillette Cup Final, losing in 1976 and, of course, played lots of first class cricket racking up over 15000 runs at 32 at a time when a record like that was perfectly acceptable for a county pro in at Three.
But the figures don’t capture the man. Little Harry Pilling was a Lancastrian in a cosmopolitan team that still managed to be Lancastrian from top to bottom. Just 5ft 3in and slight, he, like Barry Wood, Jack Simmons, David Hughes and skipper Jackie Bond himself, would never set a game alight individually, but squeezed the absolute maximum from their ability, played for each other from first ball to last and wallowed in the love of a crowd who recognised their own, out in the middle, doing it for the Red Rose.
Very few non-combatants are honoured by their sports, but Steve Sabol will be mourned like very few others in NFL history, even though he never played a single down.
Sabol was the president of NFL Films, the company started by his father Ed, who was himself justifiably enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2011. It was Steve, though, who was the genius behind the lens, the man who took the company to where it is today, the leading innovator in sports broadcasting. To make a crude comparison, he was the Steve Jobs of his profession.
Under Steve, NFL Films were the first sports broadcaster to use ground level slo-motion action, the first to wire players and managers for sound during a game, and the first to effectively use montage action. Taking a cue from the movies, Sabol was a pioneer in using music to enhance highlight footage, revolutionising the concept. So much of what we see today in sports coverage – any sports coverage – began with Steve Sabol.
In March 2011 Steve Sabol learned that he had an inoperable brain tumour. He continued working for as long as his condition would allow. In August 2011 he was proud to give the introduction address at his father’s Hall of Fame enshrinement. He will, almost certainly, follow his father into that hallowed institution. It is a shame that he will not be there to see it, but it is more of a shame that, like Jobs, his talent has been taken from this world too soon.
Stephen Douglas Sabol, 2 October 1942 -18 September 2012
Sid Waddell broke all the rules of television commentary. Instead of toning down his Geordie accent, he turned it up; instead of hiding his esoteric Classical knowledge, he flaunted it; instead of passing off prepared bon mots as spontaneous, he reveled in them. We loved him for it.
Though his CV is much more varied than darts commentary (and includes the much admired kids’ TV series Jossy’s Giants), it is for the arrers that he will be remembered. He was transfixed by the game, by its characters, by its roots in a working class culture that seems almost as distant today as ancient Macedonia.
Like many, my introduction to darts was “Indoor League”, a lunchtime highlight during school holidays incongruously scheduled next to Crown Court on ITV. Staying just the right side of patronising, Sid’s idea of presenting pub games to a wider audience caught the same wave as Pot Black did for snooker. Colour television and a growing interest in sports stars as personalities ensured that darts survived the demise of Indoor League and stepped beyond World of Sport’s coverage of the News of the World Championships into the revered space of the BBC for its world championship.
Sid now had his canvas and, soon, his characters. He was good on genial Welshman, Leighton Rees and his rival, Derbyshire’s dour, dry John Lowe, but came into his own with the rise of the Crafty Cockney, Eric Bristow and the squat, square Scot, Jocky Wilson (whose obituary you can find on this site). Sid’s swooping voice – he would go through octaves in pitch as the excitement mounted – and his learning about the game as well as beyond it, carried darts into the mainstream.
Sid was “only” a commentator, but he brought pleasure to millions and no commentator, not John Arlott, not Bill MacLaren, not Murray Walker did more to make his sport what it is today. Big 20, Big 20 and Double 16 is too low a checkout for the voice of darts, but he can be proud of his work and proud of his legacy. And we will miss him.
Tom Maynard, who has died at 23 years of age, was a dashing strokemaker at ease in all three formats of the game with a glittering future ahead of him. That is now gone and when the shock wears off (and your writer is as shocked by this news as any he can recall), those of us who saw Maynard at his best will treasure the memories.
His very first match for Glamorgan was sufficient to confirm and dispel two notions about the young man: his 71 off 75 balls confirmed that he had inherited his father Matthew’s prodigious hitting ability and dispelled any thoughts that he would be known as ”Matthew’s son” for long – we’d be talking about Tom Maynard from the off.
Having left the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Welsh cricket in 2010 shortly after his father’s acrimonious split with Glamorgan, Tom joined a Surrey team beginning to realise their potential. He was soon standing up straight at the crease to hit the ball hard in the V or pull and cut with equal facility square of the wicket. He was a fine athlete and used his physical presence to get on top of bowlers and give them no hiding place. He never quite scored the daddy hundreds one might have expected from a man with his gifts, but, at just 23, they were surely just over the horizon.
He was at the heart of a Surrey squad that had won their first trophy for years with the CB40 in 2011 and which had gained promotion to the LVCC Divison One in an extraordinary run for the line, during which his century to set up a win vs Derbyshire was a typically robust contribution.
Batting like that caught the eye of the England selectors and he wintered with the Performance Squad, before starting a season in which Surrey had high hopes of a young team in which Tom, joshing with Stuart Meaker and Jason Roy on Sky’s Cricket AM just 48 hours ago (pictured, centre), seemed to fit perfectly. That his is a talent now forever unfulfilled, is a cricketing tragedy of the highest order; that Tom’s is a life unfulfilled, is a human tragedy of the highest order.
(The exact circumstances of Tom’s death are unclear at the time of writing and may not be clear until the coroner reports. It is, however, clear that there are no suspicious circumstances. Article amended 18 June 2.00pm).
This post also appears at 99.94.
Charlie Sutton, the only man to coach the Western Bulldogs – née Footscray – to an AFL Premiership, has died at the age of 88. A man whose life exemplified pride in club and origin, he was born during the last of Footscray’s successful VFA years before entering the VFL. Recruited to the Dogs from Spotswood Citizens, he embodied local and club spirit for seven decades, captaining, coaching and leading the boardroom as the club struggled first to emerge, and then to survive.
He earned renown as an uncompromising, iron-fisted back pocket. In an era where almost everyone ran in straight lines, regardless of human obstacle, Sutton’s compact stature and ruthless attitude made him feared. He was the epitome of the back-pocket plumber, with no airs, graces or, often, teeth.
Concentrating solely on his powerlifter physique and inexorable approach is to see only half the player. While his attitude and size defined his playing style, it didn’t dictate his skill, which was formidable; when representing Victorian, he formed with Bernie Smith perhaps the greatest back-pocket duo the game has seen.
It was when he took over as coach that Footscray’s story changed. His leadership and a bright bunch of recruits – Jack Collins, Brownlow medallist Peter Box and, crucially, Ted Whitten – brought the Dogs their sole Grand Final win of 1954. He taught toughness, responsibility and vim – traits with which the fans could identify. In winning the flag, the Dogs defeated powerhouses Geelong and the formidable Norm Smith-coached Melbourne, who were to win of 5 of the next 6 Premierships.
In a familiar story, it’s probable that Sutton was replaced as coach for financial reasons. One of two transcendent stars in an amateur league, Whitten would be offered more financial and career opportunities outside Melbourne than the Bulldogs could provide for him as just a player. Serving as captain-coach doubled a player’s match payment; the appeal to Whitten would have been obvious. No matter: Charlie would later serve as club President, omnipresent and omniscient to all matters Footscray.
Sutton coached the Dogs for three years after the flag to be succeeded by his protégé, the player he thought the best ever. Whitten is popularly considered the prototypical Bulldog, a boy who grew up in the shadows of the Western Oval and joined, then led, the only club he ever could. In doing so, he created a lineage that begat champions Doug Hawkins, Rohan Smith and Brad Johnson. While it’s most public face, Whitten wasn’t the progenitor of this dynasty, but Sutton.
Had it not been for Charlie Sutton, Whitten may have retired at age 21; if not for Charlie Sutton, EJ almost certainly wouldn’t have grown into the man – the icon – he became. Charlie was tough, but honest and caring. E.J. Whitten was just a bigger, more athletic – and perhaps more eloquent – version.
Sutton was amongst the first inductees to the AFL Hall of Fame; and when in 2010 the Bulldogs created their own Asgaard, the first two honoured were Whitten and Sutton, inseparable again. No consideration was given to any others, nor should there have been. Their ground is named after one, while their best player each year receives a medal named for the other.
Charlie and Ted, forever Footscray Bulldogs 1 and 1A.
Perhaps Charlie Sutton is best defined by that 1954 Premiership cup. In 2008, the Bulldogs finished third on the back of great seasons from Adam Cooney and Johnson. Before the finals began coach Rodney Eade called a late-night team meeting in the depths of the MCG. When the meeting concluded, the players were led onto the surface to see a gnomelike figure in the centre, illuminated by the lights. It was Sutton, holding the 1954 cup. At age 84, he inspired half a group of cynical footballers to tears.
Charlie Sutton began the legacy of Bulldog champions who were men of the people. Players, and characters, to whom sons of the West could relate. No-one had a bad word to say about Sutton; the same applies to Whitten, Dempsey, Grant, Hawkins and Johnson. That in itself is a remarkable achievement. He will be remembered; he will be missed.