Duckworth Lewis’s text book case for Midsomer Murders

A book about cricket statisticians? It doesn’t add up for PETER WILSON

Cricket is not sexy. Despite Lily Allen’s Tweets from Test matches and Mick Jagger occasionally turning up to the big games still attached to the same hips that have gyrated around the world untold times over in almost 50 years, it is just not sexy. Even the presence at Lord’s of our own beloved SJA President, apparently a babe magnet in his time as a television interviewer, cannot increase its “wow” factor to orgasmic levels. Sorry, Sir Michael.

War, though, is sexy. So moviemakers can get a pretty decent film out of boffins sitting around trying to decrypt secret codes such as those sent by Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine. But two guys trying to find a fairer way to chase runs after delays in one-day cricket matches? Well, Kate Winslet might even give that one a miss.

In the unlikely event that the story of Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis becomes a movie, I’m putting my money on David Jason as Duckworth and Colin Firth as Lewis (well you’d need to sex it up some way) playing cricket’s most hated – misunderstood? – duo.

It would have been more exciting had one or both of them had been killed, then we could have had a Morse/Lewis/Midsomer Murders-type TV drama set in the Gloucestershire countryside with lots of visits to pubs.

“Well Jones, why do you think they were murdered?” says Mr Barnaby.

“Could it be they had spent many years formulating a method for adjusted targets in weather-affected one-day cricket matches, sir?”

“Well, they did make many enemies, Jones. There’s that South African guy, Pollock.”

“Yes sir, and that red-headed man from the northeast, Collingwood.”

Fortunately, any threats of bodily harm Duckworth and Lewis have received over the years have been just that.

I know I’m trying to make them sound interesting, but frankly the most interesting thing these two middle-aged Lancastrians living in Gloucestershire do when after meeting up for the first time in the early 1990s is go to the pub. They deliberate in a pub. They arrange to meet everyone in a pub. I’m not knocking it, after all, the SJA was founded in a pub and we hold our committee meetings in a pub. On occasion, I have been known to visit a pub.

You can read about the their pub crawl, oh, and how these two statisticians/mathematicians got together to change the face of one-day cricket – with a supporting cast, who do much of the donkey work – in an entertaining new book, Duckworth Lewis: The Method And The Men Behind It.

After a brief biography of each – Duckworth likes name dropping, no more so than when he briefly stayed as a student in the house of John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi at the same time as the Beatle (Lennon’s response when Duckworth said “hello” was “uh?”, a sound that would be echoed around cricket grounds in years to come whenever a Duckworth/Lewis calculation would be announced), while Lewis appears to move countries whenever they bring in policies he doesn’t like – they set out in a clear and accessible way the reasons behind why a new method of adjusting run chase targets was needed, and how they persuaded the game’s authorities to accept a method that would at times have a team chasing a higher total than their opponents had scored. The key word in all this is “resources”.

Detailing the faults of previous run rate calculations, such as in the 1992 World Cup when rain interrupted England’s match against South Africa, who returned after the break with a new target of scoring 22 runs from one ball (not that I see anything wrong with that), this should convince any sceptic that these two anti-heroes have produced a fairer system.

They provide examples of how to calculate their method for different situations at different times of an innings – and reveal the mistakes that have been made by those setting the targets at games – describe how the method is updated as scoring rates in the one-day game get higher and they describe the method’s precarious relationship with Twenty20. We also find out that a Duckworth/Lewis Match Manager attends each game – no doubt in disguise.

They have set out the arguments for their method in such a clear way that even I managed to work out one of the examples on my own calculator. By the time you have finished reading the book you will feel you have sat a GCSE (do they still have those?) in applied mathematics. The full Duckworth/Lewis table is included, too, just in case you have nothing to do with the remainder of your life.

It does appear they could have done with a decent agent, because they claim not to have become rich from the D/L Method, even though the names Duckworth and Lewis are more famous than some of the opening partnerships that have benefited from it.

Still, they enjoy the trappings of that fame, such as visits to Buckingham Palace, meeting famous cricketers, travelling in stretch limos with champagne. They also like a good moan. “It had been nice to have been made to feel so important. This doesn’t happen too often now at home,” they groan.

It is not only the powers that be at Lord’s that get it in the neck, for not inviting them to big games, but also the media. Duckworth and Lewis settle a few scores, criticising colleagues such as Jonathan Agnew and David Lloyd, among others, for not understanding the method and misleading viewers and listeners.

Indeed, Duckworth and Lewis can be quite arrogant at times, and make it difficult to be liked (maybe I should go down the pub with them?). The first page of the foreword has yet to be turned before you get this little lesson in how to win over the reader: “The mathematics are very simple and straightforward and anyone, apart from the totally innumerate, can easily understand how it works if they are prepared to make a little effort.” Blimey, they sound like a teacher I had at school.

Maybe Bollywood could cheer up Duckworth and Lewis? I can see it now: as the cerebral twosome are hunched over a calculator (make that an abacus for dramatic effect), one of those fantasy song and dance numbers that make Indian movies so popular is going on around them, while equations come tumbling from the sky like raindrops.

I really do need to lie down. Warning: this book comes with a bloody headache.

Duckworth Lewis: The Method And The Men Behind It (SportsBooks, £12.99). To order, click here.

For more book reviews and news from the sports publishing business, click here


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