“Tony Greig died of a heart attack on Saturday. It was probably for him a merciful release because the late stage of any cancer is often hell on earth.”
So wrote Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Times on 31 December. He knew what he was writing about. He died of cancer himself on New Year’s Day.
Cricket has attracted more intelligent commentators and inspired more good writing than any other sport. Compare the panel of experts on Match of the Day with that on Test Match Special. CMJ was a paragon of his trade and a great character, too.
So it is entirely worthy of him that there should have been such a rich outpouring of obituaries to mark his passing. Only a sport as literate as cricket could have achieved this. His obits reward study, too, even for those who give not a jot for the deeds of flanneled fools. They are models of their kind.
CMJ was a character in ways obituarists dream of. His scattiness was productive of myriad anecdotes, all of them brilliant. He was also an advanced technophobe whose mishaps with his laptop were legion.
Richard Hobson in The Times recalls:
In Lahore once, he could barely disguise his pride as he handed over a piece of paper with what he said was a wi-fi code, having managed to explain how to log on to the hotel’s internet. I lacked the heart to tell him it was nothing more than a receipt for a coffee.
The pick of the crop of obits for CMJ is that by Simon Barnes in The Times. It really is as good as it gets:
That voice, brimming with love, the lightest possible top-dressing of irony, flowing with easy precision from a million radios. So that wherever you happened to be, in a stuffy flat, lying in the garden, cruising the motorway, in bed in a different time zone, doing the washing-up, you were there too, the swallows skimming low across the fielder-crisscrossed grass, the sun still warm, the shouts of the players, the sigh of disappointment from the crowd, the solid smack of one that comes clean off the middle.
Life ought to be like this: always an hour after tea, England always 300 for two, the sun shining, the world untroubled and Christopher Martin-Jenkins at the microphone.
He told us about cover drives and yorkers and legside nurdles and the one that goes on with the arm. He told of a game played on six continents of the world. And always, his voice sang of his love for all this. It was a voice that seemed to call the swallows themselves into being.
AFTERTHOUGHT – Cricket commentators are famous for the way that, when rain interrupts play and there’s nothing happening, they carry right on chatting animatedly for as long as the downpour lasts. Such is their love of the minutiae game that they always have plenty to say.
There may be food for thought here for funeral celebrants. From time to time you travel back from visiting a family and you reflect that there’s very little, almost nothing, to say about the person who’s died. A blameless life, wholly uneventful. Aaaargh. (I’ve done it myself.)
This isn’t meant as a criticism. But if it’s cricket commentators’ love of the sport that gives them plenty to say about an uneventful game, perhaps the lesson is that it’s a simple love of human nature rather than any higher cleverness that can transform the minutiae of an uneventful life into something compellingly interesting.