Assistant editor, ESPNcricinfo

Our Tom

How could you not love Chris Martin? Not least, he gave ball-by-ball commentators plenty to talk about in the wee hours

Sidharth Monga

July 11, 2013

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A

Chris Martin appeals to have AB de Villiers lbw, New Zealand v South Africa, 1st Test, Dunedin, 1st day, March 7, 2012
An appeal only the hardest could turn down © Getty Images
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Doing commentary for ESPNcricinfo can sometimes be a mundane and lonely job. Sometimes at 4am, when not much is happening on the pitch and the readers have wandered away, you feel you are all alone. That you are describing the action to nobody. At such times of existential crisis, one man always came in handy. If Chris Martin was bowling, or if - actually, especially if - he was batting, people would always come back and start writing in. We all loved Chris Martin.

On commentary we discussed how Martin has never been dismissed in T20 internationals. On commentary I learnt how Martin got his nickname: Martin-Marto-Tomato-Tom-Tommy. On commentary, a former colleague, who wants to retain the romance of the mystery behind its origin, gave Martin the nickname "Phantom", the "ghost that bats". How that one stuck. On commentary we lamented how the Phantom was left stranded a whopping 52 times.

On commentary we noticed his batting had improved to the extent that he began edging deliveries he would earlier have missed. On commentary we marked every single career run of his as it was scored, from around 90 to 123. On commentary we cheered every time he got to three runs in an innings because that ensured a jump in his average. On commentary we reminisced about times when his average used to be 12 (for eight days in 2000).

On commentary we relived his 12 not out against Bangladesh, the don't-hit-me-in-the-ribs flick-pull off Simon Jones that went for four, and the straight-driven four off Harbhajan Singh at Basin Reserve, which drew quite simply the biggest cheer of the whole season. It actually outdid the applause when Martin played out five balls to allow Jesse Ryder his century in Hamilton, after Iain O'Brien had a brain freeze. O'Brien still can't thank Martin enough.

Not just Ryder, Martin saw Daniel Vettori through to a century at Basin Reserve. And Jacob Oram too, at the Gabba. Not to mention Scott Styris at Eden Park. Martin helped Mathew Sinclair to a double, and Ross Taylor to a 150. Clearly he could fight for his mates, we concluded on commentary.

All this might sound like knocking a guy for his third-best skill. It was not. Martin himself, while trying his best to improve, might have had a quiet chuckle at those jokes. He once said, tongue firmly in cheek, that he was so bad at batting because he didn't drive a car and hence couldn't carry a kitbag.

He had those ridge-less trademark pads, adding to the cult, making you wonder if someone had ever actually paid to get their brandname on Martin's pads. He had only one set of boots because he didn't need the batting ones for too long.

Not in our wildest thoughts did we laugh at Martin; we imagined we were laughing with him. He was a popular man who we could laugh with. Not that we knew him personally, but from what we have read about him since his retirement, the summations seem spot on. And he was popular.

For a man who is not the most famous Chris Martin in the world, "Tommy" was an exceptionally popular cricketer. Let alone the Coldplay singer, even in cricket searches our Chris Martin sometimes lost out to Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Put him on a cricket field, though, and he was always a distinct and elegant sight - though not in the attention-seeking way. Far from it.

On commentary we discussed how Martin looked like a hippie when he first arrived on the scene, necklace, goatee and ponytail all in place. After he shaved his head, he acquired a Dennis Lillee headband. How could you not like this humour?

On commentary we loved Martin's run-up: he didn't run in as much as glide in. This was not a sight appreciated on TV. You had to watch Martin run in live, especially on days when the sun was out. Not many bowlers had both feet higher off the ground at the same time in their run-up. And then you had to look at the shadow underneath - it looked like a bird.

There was the leap. What a start to the delivery stride. How could you not like a bowler who leapt the height of the stumps before letting the ball go? At the Basin Reserve, it became a sight to behold.

We have also been terrified by that appeal. We compared it to the Undertaker's homage to the urn. Only the most fearless umpire, with ice in his veins, can turn such an appeal down.

Martin's overall appeal had the same irresistibility. He was modern, yet from another era. He was a cricketer you thought you could have a drink with. He would smoke a few while drinking, his colleagues told you. He enjoyed his drink and his cigarettes, but neither was it a boast in the old way nor did he try to cover it up in the modern PR way. It didn't affect his exemplary training and, even at 38, Martin was arguably fitter than the more talented and promising hands he has left New Zealand pace bowling in.

He also found time to go back to university while playing cricket, to study American history among other things. On commentary we learnt that a bald man would often be found sitting in a college cafeteria, and that you couldn't tell he was a Test cricketer from his demeanour. On commentary we will talk about the Phantom when going through the existential crisis, at an ungodly hour, of describing to nobody that not much is happening on the pitch.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by   on (July 11, 2013, 18:21 GMT)

No batsman has ever given as much joy to most of the cricinfo readers as The Phantom, no none among Lara, Dravid, Pieterson, ABD, Sachin, Ponting, not even Misbah..

Phantom was synonymous with ball-by-ball commentary, & you're spot on when you say that it was like laughing with him & not on him.. I doubt if there is a single reader who didn't like him..

He might not be anyone's favourite cricketer, but for sure, he was the most popular choice on Cricinfo.. Phantom, you would be missed, live cricket commentary will never be the same..

Posted by Joe-car on (July 11, 2013, 15:48 GMT)

I can still remember the day he made his hundredth run in test cricket. It was in England I think, and he ran three to get there; Michael Atherton or Nassar Hussain was in commentary. He said, "Go on son, run, pin your ears back". Best thing I've ever seen and heard on live television, mind you I watched Jacques Kallis make twin tons at Newlands with broken ribs. Now that I think of it, it was Nassar Hussain on commentary. And who can ever forget that four that he blocked to the fine-leg boundary and Neil Johnson remarked that he smashed it for four? Take a bow Chris, take a bow.

Posted by TheScot on (July 11, 2013, 14:46 GMT)

Sidharth, seriously? We are always there with you and so is Phantom. Its just that you never post my comments, but I am there.

Posted by anurag23bhide on (July 11, 2013, 13:33 GMT)

You are NEVER alone, Sid, NEVER!! Even at 4 am, especially at 4 am, there is always us, the cricket nerds, clinging on to the cricinfo live commentary. Its the air that we breathe!

Posted by Praxis on (July 11, 2013, 12:06 GMT)

Martin was a true cricketer, also if he was playing I wouldn't miss the cricinfo commentary. He will always be one of my favourites. Credits to Sid for the perfect description of Phantom's run-up & delivery, it was something you'd watch over & over again even on the TV. I'll miss watching this man bowling, or the fun of seeing him holding a bat.

Respect to Cris Martin, you truly are a legend.

Posted by Rahul_78 on (July 11, 2013, 8:53 GMT)

Phantom - An Absolute legend! And an article befitting the legend. Full of lovely anecdotes, tributes and pictures! Amazing Sid!

Posted by   on (July 11, 2013, 8:15 GMT)

Just a small nitpick its Pallbearer with the urn not undertaker :)

Oh Phantom, you would be missed.

Posted by   on (July 11, 2013, 7:09 GMT)

Thank you Sid for giving Martin the article he deserved for giving us such joy. And the picture of him and the Undertaker shall be tattooed onto my soul for all eternity.

Posted by   on (July 11, 2013, 6:36 GMT)

Oh! This is brilliant! We'll definitely miss Phantom. And I'm downloading that picture of him appealing, Undertaker..lol! Epic!

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