Stephen Fay, the distinguished journalist, author and former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, has died at the age of 81.
In a wide-ranging career that spanned six decades, Fay carved himself a reputation as one of the country's foremost investigative journalists, in particular through his work on the Sunday Times' renowned Insight team.
Along the way, he wrote numerous books with a particular focus on the worlds of art and finance, among them The Death of Venice in 1976, co-authored with Philip Knightley, and The Collapse of Barings, which was written in the space of three months in the winter of 1995-96, barely a year after the rogue trader Nick Leeson had brought down one of the world's oldest merchant banks.
After rising to become deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday, and briefly its editor, a pivot to cricket journalism was perhaps not the obvious next step for Fay, but in 1994, he was given a weekly slot in the sports pages, and happened to be in the right place at the right time as Devon Malcolm cleaned up South Africa with his figures of 9 for 57 at The Oval.
Thereafter Fay's forensic attention to detail made him a fixture on the cricket beat, as he brought to the role the same rigour that had served him so well in his news-focused days. In particular, he made it his duty to attend all post-match press conferences, no matter how unremarkable the speaker might be, rightly concluding that there was insight to be gleaned from even the most banal of utterances.
As his former colleague at the Independent, Stephen Brenkley, wrote in a personal tribute on the Cricket Writers' Club website, Fay's example set "a lesson for all young reporters: he was never afraid to pose apparently dumb questions because he was eternally curious, as all reporters in whatever category should be, and sometimes they elicited answers that otherwise might have been elusive or evaded."
In 1999, at the age of 62, Fay was invited to take up the reins as editor of WCM (having had previous experience in the magazine world as editor of Business), when the incumbent, Tim de Lisle, switched roles to set up the original Wisden.com website, the editorial arm of which would later be merged with Cricinfo in 2003.
As Fay's former colleague Tanya Aldred wrote on Twitter, his three-year tenure at the magazine was marked by "the perfect mixture of stern and twinkle". In some respects, his old-school journalistic habits were out of kilter with the increasing demands of the instant information age, but equally his ability to cajole his writers, distinguished or otherwise, with whatever stick or carrot was required, was unsurpassed.
"Writers can be fragile creatures," he once said of his role. "And good editors talk to them wherever they are, to encourage them and get a feeling for what is happening." Sure enough, many of Fay's former writers still treasure the "herograms" they would receive after a particularly sterling piece of work. And similar numbers recall how a perambulatory catch-up over the phone would pivot suddenly, but inevitably, with the immortal words: "Now then, where's my f***ing copy!"
Fay's retirement from the role, on his 65th birthday in September 2003, coincided with the final issue of WCM (in its original guise), as his deputy John Stern took charge of a new publication, The Wisden Cricketer, following the merger of WCM and its long-term rival, The Cricketer.
Fay's methods were not beyond a bit of light ribbing. He was dubbed "Captain Claret" by Private Eye for his enduring faith in the art of the journalist's long lunch, but the time that he made to enjoy the pleasures of networking paid rich dividends, not least in forging enduring bonds with the likes of Mike Atherton and Derek Pringle at the start of their own careers in cricket writing.
At one such gathering, Fay took perverse delight in being told by Atherton that he "knew nothing about cricket". ("I know more about journalism than Mike does," was his subsequent retort, "though he is learning").
"We would talk about cricket for a bit, but there were always other subjects to explore," Atherton told Brenkley. "He was pin sharp still and forever curious. I always walked away from the restaurant with a spring in my step."
Mike Selvey, the former Guardian cricket correspondent, added his own tribute on Twitter, describing Fay as "such a kind, generous, supportive, brilliant, sage fellow. And great company."
Whether or not there had been a grain of truth in Atherton's assertion in the early years of their association, it was self-evidently a falsehood by the time of what Fay himself may have considered his crowning achievement in cricket writing, his claiming of the CWC Book of the Year award in 2018, in conjunction with the social historian, David Kynaston, for their work: Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket. In 2005, he had written his first cricket book, Tom Graveney at Lord's, a year in the life of the first former professional to be made president of MCC, and a study of the club's evolution.
Fay's curiosity and open-mindedness were enduring themes of his career - for instance, his even-handed assessment of the merits of the Twenty20 Cup, on the eve of the first staging of the competition in 2003, was just one example of how unwise it would be to draw any conclusions from appearances, which in Fay's case were unmistakably ruddy-faced and grand.
A personal highlight of my own career was the week I spent sitting next to him up in the media overflow gantry at the Gabba in 2006-07, watching the first Test of that winter's Ashes, and offering insights into how to use Cricinfo's Statsguru filters in return for pearls of journalistic wisdom. He would be taken seriously ill shortly after that match, an ailment that would continue to afflict him, but he never let it take the edge off his love of life.
"For so many of us in journalism he was mentor, confidante and wise counsel as well as terrific company," wrote Pringle on Twitter. "I will miss our lunches together with @Athersmike. RIP Captain Claret."