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'Cricket reflects the society of the time'

March 07, 2006 18:05 IST

Christopher Martin JenkinsChristopher Martin Jenkins is one of the world's finest cricket writers.

Better known as CMJ in cricketing circles, he is also one of the game's foremost commentators and has been cricket correspondent for the BBC, The Daily Telegraph and The Times, London, at various times.

Having played rugby at university and then cricket for Surrey's second XI, he started his career as deputy editor of The Cricketer magazine in 1967 after gaining a honours degree in modern history.

He has written a number of books including In Defence of The Ashes (1979/80); The Complete Who's Who of Test Cricketers (1980); the Wisden Book of County Cricket (1981); Bedside Cricket (1981); Twenty Years On (1984); The Cricketer Book of Disasters and Bizarre Records (editor, 1984) and among other books.

CMJ, currently the chief cricket correspondent for The Times, London, and a Test match commentator, spoke to Special Correspondent Harish Kotian during the first Test in Nagpur.

How much has cricket changed since the time you started your career in the 1960s?

It has changed a lot. Cricket always reflects the society of the time and it has got quicker with much more emphasis on the one-day game, which was only played by professional cricketers in 1963 in England. That was the start of something very big indeed.

Maybe this Twenty20 fashion that is just developing will be the next big phase in the game. Happily from my point of view, Test cricket has not really changed all that much.

It depends on what country you are talking about. In England the game has changed since the pitches were uncovered. That has reduced the number of finger spinners and it has changed the face of the game, but it is a still wonderful game and it evolves gradually.

Could you have imagined when you started your career that you would witness something like Twenty20 cricket? The bowlers just don't stand a chance in Twenty20 games.

I didn't really, and I feel very sorry for the bowlers. But every cloud has a silver lining and they still might as well learn to bowl slow balls and change their pace, basically come to adapt. The Twenty 20 is not much a game for the bowlers anyway.

Before the Ashes last year, people thought it would be another cakewalk for Australia. But England put in a stunning performance, won the Ashes and are currently among the top sides in world cricket.

The seeds of it were obvious when they won in the Caribbean. I know they (the West Indies) were weaker than they be used to be. Nonetheless, that is when Steve Harmison proved that he could be a match-winning bowler. Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Andrew Flintoff, they were all there in the West Indies. England went on winning basically from that successful tour. That is what happens sometimes to a Test side when they get the basics right.

You got to have a good, bowling attack to be consistently successful in Test cricket. England have a good bowling attack -- that is why they are strong at the moment.

How important was Nasser Hussain's role in England's transformation?

He was an essential element in it. He toughened them up and made them harder to beat. Michael Vaughan then took on the captaincy in a slightly more relaxed way but he is still a very hard man.

What about coach Duncan Fletcher, who has constantly improved the team since taking over in 1999?

Duncan Fletcher has been an outstanding coach without any doubt. He knows exactly what he wants, the sort of players he wants. He wants players of real character, he wants good fielders, he wants bowlers who can bat a bit or cricketers who are at least two-dimensional.

If they are bowlers and they can't bat, they got to be brilliant fielders. If they are batsman, but aren't very great fielders, they got to able to bowl. The more all-rounders he has in the side, the better.

Gradually England are building a very formidable side. In this first match in India, they had a desperate start to the tour without four of the players who played in England against Australia in the summer, but they are still very competitive.

In spite of having top cricketers at home, England have produced some of its best cricket under Fletcher who hails from Zimbabwe.

It is strange, but it proves that he is not a bad choice. He is a very single-minded character and he knows what he exactly wants. One or two players may have been unlucky not to be selected because they don't suit his particular criteria. The fact is that he is a highly professional coach and has done a very good job.

Maybe in the past England were guilty of too many chopping and changing with their selection. If somebody got a couple of hundreds in county cricket, he was on the verge of the England side. You do need continuity, and you need to be consistent in your selection.

Image: Christopher Martin Jenkins (left) with Geoffrey Boycott

Christopher Martin Jenkins (left) with Geoffrey BoycottWhat has been the high point of your career so far?

Beating Australia in last year's Ashes was definitely the high point.

Did you celebrate the victory?

No, I didn't celebrate. I have done it (journalism)for so long that you learn to be objective really and you got to be fair. You can't afford to become a supporter, you got to be neutral and move away from it.

At the same time it is after such a long, long time that England beat Australia. Everybody likes beating Australia, especially if you are English.

So you didn't celebrate victory over Australia?

To be honest I was very tired. I went home and had a quiet glass of champagne. I was glad that I was not out there in the streets celebrating. I know if I was Indian I would have been out in the streets celebrating.

Tell us about your son Robin, who plays county cricket for Sussex.

He is a good all-rounder, he is 6 foot 5 inches tall. I think there was a time when with a bit of luck he could have made it to the England one-day side. He could have got into the national side, maybe if he scored runs at the right moment or taken wickets at the right moment.

You always need to have luck. He enjoys his cricket, he is quite a nice chap. He has got a lot of his life left, so even if he doesn't play for England, it is no big disaster. I would love to see him play though. But I think it could be one of my regrets that I have never seen him do that.

What is the difference between cricket in India and back home in England?

It is a spinner's game in India and the game is all about variety. You get an amazing numbers of very, very good grounds, whether you have should have a Test match in Nagpur or rather than Kolkata or Madras (Chennai). From an England point of view, they would have preferred to play in the bigger grounds with much more people.

And how different is cricket journalism in both countries?

Here in India, I think you get very, very ordinary writers and maybe one or two brilliant young writers, who really capture the point.

Do you think this England team, though inexperienced, is capable of producing an upset in India?

You wouldn't really back them when Vaughan, Trescothick, Jones and Giles are all back in England to win this series. They have got a fine young batsman in the making in Alastair Cook. They got a useful left-arm spinner in Monty Panesar as we saw in the first innings. Panesar is a very good, natural bowler and could be very useful for England on this tour.

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