November 28, 2008

Duckworth and Lewis needs a rethink

Andy Zaltzman looks at Duckworth-Lewis, "one of humankind’s greatest scientific breakthroughs", but questions whether it needs a revamp

One of the greatest scientific breakthroughs known to man © Cricinfo Ltd.

The Duckworth-Lewis method is rightly regarded as one of humankind’s greatest scientific breakthroughs, fit to set alongside Archimedes hopping into his bath and splashing water all over his new carpet, Fleming not bothering to wash up his petri-dishes, and whoever first discovered the sliceability of bread.

Before Professors D and L intervened, the received wisdom of the ages had been that the intervention of rain or bad light would forever skew the natural axis of limited-over cricketing justice. Previous attempts to solve this ageless conundrum had ranged from incomplete to idiotic. However, after years of secretive testing of their formula on teams of cricket-playing laboratory mice dressed in garish little pyjamas, Duckworth and Lewis unleashed their ingenious system on the cricket world and instantly catapulted themselves onto the Nobel Prize waiting list. Many still do not understand the method, but it is one of those things that the public needs to trust rather than comprehend. Like air travel, the workings of the digestive system...and Tony Blair.

The slight powerplay-related glitch revealed in the fourth India-England ODI will no doubt soon be ironed out (indeed, all significant developments in scientific history have had their teething troubles – when Newton was demonstrating gravity to then king Charles II by lobbing fruit in the air and letting it land on his head, he hurled a grapefruit upwards which never came down).

However, Duckworth-Lewis’ one seemingly irredeemable failing is its inability to adjudicate matches which fail to reach the minimum length, or are completely cancelled, leaving the disappointed spectator either with a no-result or a bowl-out (a deeply unfair resolution heavily loaded in favour of teams whose bowlers habitually drift onto middle-and-leg, thus rewarding sloppy bowling).

D/L must therefore return to their laboratory to develop special brain-scanning helmets to analyse the mental states of players, and thus predict which team would have performed better on the day – based on their confidence levels, intensity of will-to-win, homesickness, and extent of distraction caused by external media and financial issues.

The winning team could thus be fairly adjudicated, and the paying spectator would return home happy that justice had been served. (Whilst inevitable technical teething troubles are overcome, it may also be necessary for the ICC to back up the results of the scanner helmet by spying on the teams to gain the deepest possible insight into the psychological states of the players – the authorities would have to start bugging team meetings and hotel rooms, and conducting elaborate tabloid-style sting operations to trick the players into revealing whether, deep down, they genuinely believe they can win, or are just saying so in press conferences out of contractual obligation.)

In time, it may prove that the helmet-scanner system provides a far more fair and accurate means of deciding cricket matches that cricket itself. Result of games are often determined by moments of unnatural luck, skill or umpiring – science could remove such quirks, and ensure that by removing cricket from cricket matches, the team that deserves to win always emerges triumphant.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 13, 2008, 10:55 GMT


    But one may ask is this blog funny-for-funny's sake, or is it funny to highlight an absurd injustice, like in this case, the stupid Duckworth-Lewis system?

  • testli5504537 on December 11, 2008, 9:23 GMT

    Funny piece Andy! Folks, lets just leave it at that and leave your seious-minded argument at the door when you enter this blog. I think there are plenty of other blogs where you can go and spew your serious opinions and bore the crap out of all the jobless(make that browsing at work) souls out there.

  • testli5504537 on December 4, 2008, 20:49 GMT

    D/L currently assumes that all players of a team have the same skills thus equating Sachin to Ishant. Which translates to each resource being 9.1% of the team (=100/11 players). That assumption introduces many inequities.

    Instead, if each captain (prior to start of game) spreads 100 percentage points among the playing team (for batting & bowling each) it could account for each player’s skillset, current form, etc.

    e.g., for batting Sachin = 18%, Sehwag = 22%, … Ishant = 1%. Similarly, for bowling, Sachin = 2%, Sehwag = 5%, … and Ishant = 25%, and so on.

    This new weightage will change “remaining wickets” resource calculations of D/L. So, a score with 4 remaining wickets might instead translate to 4.85 or 5.45 wickets remaining, etc.

    Such a weightage still won’t be able to account for Kumble or Brett Lee hitting a century or an in-form Gambhir or Hayden hitting ducks but it might improve the currently ridiculous D/L.

    Does this make sense? Would love to hear people’s opinion.

  • testli5504537 on December 4, 2008, 18:27 GMT

    D/L method is not fool proof,but it is the best available. It also brings some excitement into rain curtailed matches where the crowds are already bored due to the rain breaks. but I think a rethink is needed for these new powerplay rules.

  • testli5504537 on December 4, 2008, 11:24 GMT

    Duckworth Lewis Method is certainly not a perfect method of evaluating targets. One thing for sure it doesn't take into consideration is the Power Play utilization at the time of rain interruption.

  • testli5504537 on December 4, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    funny as ever...

  • testli5504537 on December 4, 2008, 9:52 GMT

    The idea of the brain-scanning helmet is brilliant. Without doubt. I'm afraid however that its applicability would be limited. I'm not surprised that the idea originates on the british isles. For the way in which the problem of reaching a fair result in a limited overs match is by way of a typical british flaw. A measure of the - apparently fluctuating - mental state of the players determines the outcome. Apart from the england team there is no other team in world cricket that is hindered by any of the mental fluxes scanned by the helmet. Or rather, the equipment needed to differentiate between the british metal fluxes and those of players from other teamsfrom other countries will require such attenuation as is technically impossible to produce. Let alone that it would call for different standards for measuring different teams. All in all, the idea is great, but, as with all great ideas, it will take some time to make it technically feasible and then there's the political will from all participating countries to have such a device find its place in world cricket. My estimate is that it may be introduced at top level somewhere between 2020 and 2030.

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2008, 15:58 GMT

    The only thing I hate about cricket is D/L method!! It robs the best out of cricket and people of their money!! This is the most nonsensical rule that has be made in any sport in this world!! Hope the gentleman's game would be cleansed of its worst law soon.

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2008, 15:20 GMT

    At the end of the 1st innings, charts are normally be prepared & published through computerisation. Captains not understanding D/L - where is the need to understand ? If you look at a printout, you know if you lose x wickets after 20 overs, your target is A. If you lose X+1, your target is A+b.... Unless of course your case is that captains cannot read what is printed on paper. As per England backers & D/L bashers, - D/L & not English incompetence are responsible for 2 matches India won during the recent series - one batting first & one batting second.

  • testli5504537 on December 1, 2008, 21:36 GMT

    The D/L method isnt perfect but surely better than other rules like a linear scaling re-adjustment or the silly one in the 1992 world cup. England won the s/f because of that rule. Want to know the reaction of English fans then- particularly of those cribbing now. Since the rule takes into account more factors than what the earlier rules did, it is bound to be more complex. It doesnt matter if common man fails to understand it. The professionals playing the game have agreed to it and surely they must have done some background check before agreeing to have it as an international standard. People are shooting alternative methods but when actually tested they will show up even bigger flaw. There is simply no way one can extrapolate a shortened game perfectly. Whatever rule is applied the losers will always whine! When India won ODI 3 D/L was criticised to favor the team batting 2nd, now India bats first and the same rule is criticised again for aiding the team batting 1st! Get a life guys

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