I have never met Christopher Martin-Jenkins in person but count him as a friend and a man of wide breadth whose early death from cancer is a loss to mankind as well as the cricket world. This intervention may seem surprising but cricket in Sri Lanka produces many surprises. One such emerged from a media event sponsored by the Laureus Foundation to advertise their efforts in sponsoring cricket and sport in the northern reaches of Sri Lanka through the avenues being forged by Kushil Gunasekara and his Foundation of Goodness. This event at the Taj Samudra Hotel one Sunday during the World Cup featured a Laureus representative, Ian Botham, Michael Vaughan, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Martin-Jenkins. CMJ was there in his capacity as the President of MCC. The MCC, I stress, had already invested heavily in sponsoring FOG’s good works in the Seenigama locality in southwest Lanka.
I attended the function as an observer, but never got to speak to CMJ. However, I highlighted the FOG work on my web sites (and have loads more photographs than those displayed because I have always maintained close touch with Anura, Fazana, Kushil and company). However, it was Botham’s emphasis on the “devastation” he had a observed during a helicopter ride to Mankulam in the north that grabbed newspaper headlines.
I was skeptical. I was skeptical because my vicarious knowledge of World War Two bombing and shelling devastation in Europe had induced me to comment critically on Ban Ki-Moon’s use of the term “devastation” when he flew over the Last Redoubt of the LTTE between the Nandhikadal Lagoon and the sea circa 20/21 May 2009. This reading was based on the aerial photographs taken by the Times cameraman who was in the same helicopter as Moon.
Now, Botham had not flown over that area, a hotbed in the last stages of the war; and I could not imagine the Mankulam locality to have suffered that greatly because it was captured in December/January. I cannot recall how or why but CMJ’s email address was within my reach and why I contacted him on cricket matters via email before the media entourage left for the World Cup finals in Mumbhai. But in his response to me, a passing remark re Botham’s well-intentioned grandstanding on the scenery led me to seek clarification. This is what he had to say by email dated Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM:
“Essentially [Ian Botham’s] description was totally false. We saw no ‘bullet-scarred trees’, no evidence of ‘mortar shells’, and the area that we were taken to was the site of the new buildings, which has been checked for mines (and I dare say de-mined) and flattened by the four JCBs on view in order to prepare it for a cricket ground and school. There are lots of trees around the site, so the flattening’ had nothing to do with any battles, although the General told me that this had indeed been an area of jungle in which battles had been fought. There were some dead trees as well as lots of green ones but I am not sure if this was because of fire.
Ian’s heart is very much in the right place and I admire his work for charity greatly, but he …. just blustered rather than saying what he had actually seen. Between ourselves, he was telling Michael Vaughan at lunch during the day that “three million” people had died in the tsunami in Sri Lanka and that he had seen the destruction from waves “higher than that a (80? foot) tree over there”.
You have yourself been to Jaffna since the war’s end so you will have a first-hand impression of what the scene was there but from our limited view of one area on Sunday the only sign that I saw of the conflict, other than the heavy military presence, was a boy with one leg.”
Such empirically grounded perspectives are worth their weight in gold. When, therefore, the issue of the DRS came to the fore in 2011 and I took up cudgels with the dogmatic stance taken by the Indian cricket authorities, I consulted CMJ on this issue by sending him one of my essay-missiles, with this note:
I would welcome your comments on the memo entitled ADDENDUM; and especially request your note on the portion in red. The context of this set of issues is [provided in] the fuller article.
His response, alas, was hindered by the bodily ailments that have eventually struck him down.
I have a torn tricep to swriting is dificult. Forgive brevity. I agree with your thesis, not least in respect of the red text. Errors have become fewer and spin bowlers have been the main beneficiaries, which cannot be a bad thing.
I attach a brief piece recently written for the centre pages of The Times.
That essay by CMJ will be reproduced in my cricketing-site as appropriate requiem. Let me pay him tribute here by contending that CMJ was a person whom one can describe as “a rounded man, a grounded man.” His balanced perspective is what one would expect of a person chosen to head the MCC. The world at large will surely miss him.
A Note from Tim Archer , a pal from Merton days, 8 January 2013
Thank you very much for your email. Happy New Year! I was very interested to read everything about CMJ. The obituaries to him, particularly in the Times, were testimony to an excellent man. Like you, I never met him but of course listened to him for hours on the radio. How we will all miss his splendid commentaries! I last saw him at Goodwood Races a couple of years ago, where he was standing alone in front of the main Grandstand. I longed to go up to him but deferred on the grounds that he must have been plagued by strangers wanting to talk to him.
When I got married my parents moved to a smaller house overlooking the village cricket green in south Surrey called Shamley Green. My father was an avid cricketer and spent many happy hours leaning over the front wall of his garden to watch the cricket. CMJ lived on the outskirts of Shamley Green but for reasons I know not, played for a neighbouring village called Albury.
To be elected as President of the MCC was a very remarkable achievement. He never played first class cricket, let alone international cricket, and yet was elected….
* FOG and Laureus for community welfare in Mankulam, 7 June 2011, http://cricketique.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/fog-and-laureus-for-community-welfare-in-mankulam/
* The Laureus Foundation, Botham & FOG announce a cutting-edge school and sports centre project for Mankulam, 31 March 2011, http://blog.themuralicup.com/?p=64
* Bikes For Basics: A Cross-Country Ride For People Of Mankulam, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/10/09/bikes-for-basics-a-cross-country-ride-for-people-of-mankulam/
* The Murali Harmony Cup http://www.themuralicup.com/
NOTA BENE: Mankulam is on the A9 road to the Jaffna Peninsula about 40 minutes south of Kilinochchi [the former administrative capital of Thamililam]. The land assigned to FOG for their centre of excellence –courtesy of Murali’s request to the President — was deemed unsuitable by environmental authorities and the focus of the Northern Empowerment Project has shifted to other spots in the north. FOG has now been offered another 50 acres of land in Mankulam in close proximity to the earlier land and the necessary paper work is being finalised now.
The Murali Harmony Cup was held at 05 venues in the north – Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mankulam, Vavuniya and Oddusudan. The cricket facility in IODR Oval Oddusudan which included a new matting
centre wicket, dressing-up of the outfield, 03 practice astro turf sidewickets and a brand new pavilion was built within a month with the SL Army totally involved with the centre and side wickets and a local contractor doing the pavilion and the side wickets with the assistance of the Army. The maintenance of facilities at the IODR Oval in Oddusudan is now entirely in the hands of the Oddusudan Maha Vidiyalayam and comes under the purview of the school Principal Mr Karunahan and zonal education directress.COMMENTARY
EMAIL COMMENT from Bill Deutrom of Brisbane & Colombo after this item was circulated in August 2023