CMJ, as he was widely known by followers of the English game, did not play for England or even at first-class level – the closest he got was being twelfth man in the Varsity match and making a single appearance for the Sussex 2nd XI (which, let’s face it, is closer than most of us can ever dream of). He was a cricket journalist, and in a crowded and distinguished field – cricket has always inspired better reporting than most other sports – he was one of the best that England has ever produced.
In his long career, he was at various times the cricket correspondent for the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the Times, as well as editor of The Cricketer and a long-standing fixture on Test Match Special, the radio commentary that is still a cricketing lifeline for those of us who don’t have Sky TV. On TMS he wasn’t as easily distracted as Henry Blofeld, he didn’t have the schoolboy humour of Brian Johnston and Jonathan Agnew and he wasn’t a blinkered old sod like Freddie Truman. What we got with CMJ was an expert who had retained the enthusiasm of the fan and who knew that his duty to us fellow-fans was to give a clear and accurate description of every ball bowled and every shot played.
The fan-expert won high honours within the game, including the MCC Presidency – a rare honour for a journalist. To this day he is the only career journalist to have delivered the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s. In a modern world where being an ex-player is often a pre-requisite for becoming a commentator (sometimes, it would seem, regardless of actual commentating ability), CMJ’s knowledge and expertise stood out.
His writings on the game informed, entertained and inspired many, myself included. His Complete Who’s Who of Test Cricketers – a mammoth undertaking if ever there was one – was an essential guide for me when I started to get into cricket and wanted to find out more about the great players of the past (there was a reference copy in Edgware Library, this being in the days before the Internet), and as a student in the mid-to-late 1990s I started reading the Daily Telegraph purely on the grounds that CMJ happened to be its cricket correspondent at the time.
Many of the obituaries about him have focussed on his eccentricities, and a character he most certainly was, but to me he was simply the man who helped to explain it all – and for that, I am truly grateful.