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 FAMOUS EDWARDIAN CRICKETERS - COLONEL ARTHUR KURTZ

Many Edwardian historians have talked up the impact of Arthur Kurtz on modern-day society, and on the path of cricket especially. Kurtz was an ordinary player in his youth, principally serving as an amateur with Lancashire, but by the turn of the twentieth century had built a publishing empire to rival any in England. Having already served in the Army in the Sudan, Kurtz had achieved the rank of Colonel and retained this for social status.

By 1901, the reporting of cricket in the national and regional press was big business. However the MCC jealously guarded the publication of events at cricket matches under its jurisdiction, particularly International matches which were rapidly becoming big business. Kurtz's publication, 'The Daily Press' was denied permission to publish reports from the 1901 series against Australia and after failed complaints to the MCC Kurtz set about revolutionising newspaper reporting and cricket in this country.
With the help of the Lancashire skipper of the time, James Kilgore, Kurtz set about establishing his own series of high profile alternative 'Test Matches' (where the phrase was born) between an England XI, The Australians and 'The Rest of The World' who predominantly comprised the South African touring party of the previous summer. Kurtz paid those taking part large sums of money, bankrolled by his media empire. Soon professionals from all over the cricketing globe were keen to take part in this three-way tournament.

Hiring grounds in his native Lancashire, Kurtz established a series of three-day matches in a triangular tournament he labelled the 'Series of the World' which were obviously featured heavily in The Daily Press with all other publications denied access to the players or matches. Kurtz quickly gathered together his band of rogue English professionals, mostly from the North of England to make up the England team, and by May 1902 the Series was underway.

His timing was perfect as the MCC had failed to organise a touring party that summer, and all attention was on the Series of the World, sales of the Daily Press escalating as the cricket-mad public sought to find out what was happening through the only route they could. Attendances at matches were more than double the norm for International matches involving England, but crowds were always lower for the second and third days of games. Then in July 1902 Kurtz decided to establish games that would be completed in one day only with each side batting just the once and having no more than 3 1/2 hours each at the crease. These became relative commercial hits and severely hit the attendances of local football matches in Lancashire in August 1902. By the end of the 1902 season, only these newly termed 'one-day' matches were being played.

It came as no surprise that the cricketing authorities were deeply upset by Kurtz and his 'circus' as they referred to it. All players and staff involved worshipped the Colonel as an idol, and at the start of the 1903 seaosn the MCC dispatched one of its most loyal henchmen, Captain James Willard, to eliminate the Kurtz Circus, 'with extreme prejudice' as they described it. Willard's quest was eventually recorded within an autobiography, 'Hearts of Darkness' which identified his struggle to win over the hearts and minds of those who had signed up to the lucrative series of matches. Willard, an amateur with Middlesex, had represented The Gentlemen versus The Players in 1901 and 1902, and was taken into the Circus as the first amateur to participate.

After firstly integrating himself within the tournament and the England team, Willard carried out his duties. Kurtz was found dead in his own newspaper office in May 1903 just as that season's series was bout to begin at Manchester. An initial verdict of suicide was recorded according to The Times later that month. His suicide note apparently existed of one phrase repeated continuously -  'The Horror ...' Willard returned to his duties playing for Middlesex the following season, but was never the same player again, seemingly heavily traumatised by his experiences.

The MCC was relieved to see that the proposed series for 1903 collapsed upon Kurtz's death, and all returned to normal in the Test arena, although the English professionals who had signed up to the games were blacklisted for another two seasons. Upon his own deathbed this century, Kerry Packer revealed it was upon reading the reports of Kurtz's 'circus' that he was inspired to transform cricket in the 1970s. Whenever historians truly reflect on the impact of the Edwardian era on modern-day cricket, they should remember Colonel Kurtz whose apocalyptic changes were inspirational to Packer and those that followed.

 

 

 

 

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