June 16, 2013

The ninth team of the Champions Trophy

It's the one that all the players fear and only mathematicians love

I'm enjoying the Champions Trophy, but watching the narrative unwind itself, I'm reminded once again that I should pay no attention whatsoever to tournament previews. None of those glossy, guessy, soothsaying pieces gave us the full picture. They went big on England, South Africa, India and so on, but they underestimated the abilities of one of the major participants.

This isn't an eight-team affair. It's eight teams and one elementary force of nature. Amid all the wittering about Anderson, Steyn, and Jadeja's moustache, rain didn't get a mention. Naturally, the heavens have used this snub as motivation, and are now proving a few people wrong. Rain has come to the party in style, doused the barbeque, flooded the buffet, and forced everyone at the party to run inside, complaining.

Rain shared the points between Australia and New Zealand, knocked out West Indies on Friday and put in a strong performance at Edgbaston on Saturday. By my reckoning, rain is now on three points and has a chance of making the semi-finals.

Where there's moisture of course, there's mathematics. Thirty years ago, Friday's soggy affair would have ended some time in the late afternoon in a drizzly washout. A point apiece, shake hands, and let's not bother getting our hair wet. But instead, there was a fair amount of cricket and the game finished in a sort of a tie, which is a far more elegant way to demonstrate that no one has won.

And that's the awe-inspiring beauty of Duckworth-Lewis. With the application of mathematics, we can cobble together a game out of the rain-damaged bits and pieces, adding an over on here for losing the ball in the river, deducting 79 seconds there for the time it took Dale Steyn to retie his bootlaces.

Such a game isn't really about cricketers. It's the men with calculators for brains who are the stars. As the players huddled in the dressing room and the spectators sat around looking confused, the real action was happening behind the scenes. Team mathematicians were scribbling furiously on whiteboards like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, dramatically correcting one another's equations and flouncing in and out of the room to a soundtrack of thunderous classical music.

I'm not sure Keiron Pollard is a big fan of rain, or indeed of mathematics, and you have to feel sorry for him. Sportsmen are used to playing under the pressure of knowing that they've got one ball to win the match, or half an over to survive, but the calculations involved in a game of Duckworth-Lewis are so tricky to follow that the player is reduced to a hero in a Greek tragedy, a mere plaything of the God of Mathematics. He swings, he runs, he looks hopelessly at the scoreboard, but he doesn't know until he's squelched back into the pavilion whether he's an unbowed hero who has triumphed over the elements, or a soggy loser who can't count.

On the other hand, Duckworth-Lewis can offer diplomatic comfort for losing teams. On Saturday, Pakistan lost, but can point out that, technically, they scored more runs than India, which if you think about it, is a kind of victory.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • beverly on June 18, 2013, 13:57 GMT

    What beautiful matches we are watching at the Champions Trophy - the highest quality of cricket, being played in any format of the limited overs tournaments! Could some person of influence in international cricket be asked to carry out a poll, to find out from the fans: "Which should be scrapped, The ICC or The Champions Trophy"; and, make the result from the polls legal?

    I am seeking the help every cricket blogger, to please let me share this opinion with all other cricket fans.

  • Krishna on June 17, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    Andrew, there should be a lovely new division of mathematics--the D/L variety--that these agricultural types have conjured up. Your statement--where there is moisture....--is priceless. I wish KP had shed a tear or two to bring the D/L balance in his favour.

  • Anand on June 16, 2013, 22:22 GMT

    DilbertZA - i have to disagree that you have to get rid of DL entirely. DL certainly has its flaws but it has its place. in face recently there has been some talk of bringing in DL to separate the teams tied in points table instead of NRR! If anything, it is time to consider Jayadevan method as an alternative for situations not being handled well by DL.

  • christie on June 16, 2013, 17:43 GMT

    DL is a farce imo. As a SA, I should not complain today, but what are the chances of a tie in odi - close to zero I would guess. For a mathematical formula to predict a draw is a joke. Secondly, The effect of powerplays, when they are taken and how many runs are scored and wickets lost in them are dufficult to take into account with a calculation. I suspect DL does not count powerplays at all. Thirdly, one player, one catch, one yorker or no ball can swing a result. The shorter the game, the bigger the influence such an event. Get rid of DL - no result is no result.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2013, 14:12 GMT

    The playing schedule in England is so packed and, with the Ashes series imminent that, there is just no time at all to squeeze n a second playing day for each match.

  • Android on June 16, 2013, 14:06 GMT

    that is so true

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2013, 12:24 GMT

    The rain certainly is playing a role in this tournament. It would be welcome if Cricinfo could publish more about why there are no provisions for playing on a second day and the need to accommodate television stations.

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