September 25, 2012

Not right as rain

T20 is far removed from traditional cricket; it's time it got a specialised rain rule

Twenty20 cricket is religion to some, a leap of faith to others, and blasphemy to the rest. During this rainy season in Sri Lanka, though, those who worship at T20's altar will have their faith tested. On the best and driest of days it is argued, and not without merit, that Twenty20 is not exactly cricket. A batsman's wicket is devalued over such a short duration, and the bowler is often so marginalised that he is slave to the skill and luck of the batsman, who has lost all fear because of the devaluation of his wicket. And when Twenty20 matches are curtailed because of rain, regardless of whether it happens before or during the game, they become ridiculous affairs.

Twenty20 was a bit of a lark featuring vintage jerseys, fake moustaches and one real Afro when international cricket first embraced it, but it is serious business now - serious enough to cause diplomatic rows and for players to ditch their national sides. It is not hit and giggle anymore.

However, even 10 years and four World Cups since the inception of Twenty20, no controlling body has grasped that this format is far removed from traditional cricket, and that it needs its own grammar and its own playing conditions, especially on rainy days. The bottom line, the fact that it provides a result in three hours, is the only obsession. That we will go to ludicrous lengths - finishing a match in 60 balls - and that we haven't yet scaled Duckworth-Lewis to this format makes a mockery of what is still officially called cricket.

Two group matches of this World Twenty20 sum up what is wrong with the rain rules especially when the equilibrium between bat and ball is already stretched to within a thin strand of snapping. The first was the contest between Sri Lanka and South Africa, which was reduced to seven overs a side, the shortest pre-decided innings in limited-overs internationals. Had they moved the "match" to Stardust casino in Colombo, it would have involved less luck.

An ODI is considered a match only when the teams have played 20 overs or ended their innings, which is 40% of the original duration. A Twenty20 is considered a match as soon as the teams have played 25% of the original duration. If such reduced games are to be taken seriously, surely the wickets in hand have to come down proportionately? Limited-overs cricket without the fear of being bowled out and thus not utilising all the overs is no fun. An F5 to decide the world champions will be right ridiculous.

There is also the flawed belief that the Duckworth-Lewis method doesn't need to be adapted to 20-over games. Not many will argue that D/L is a fair system to resolve rain-interrupted ODIs, with an agreeable weightage assigned to wickets in hand. Some will argue that the rival to D/L - the VJD method, formulated by an Indian mathematician - is better, but the difference between the two is as big as split hairs.

However, it is plain to see that wickets in hand don't mean nearly as much in Twenty20 as they do in ODIs. Not, it seems, to ICC and D/L. In a bylined article on ESPNcricinfo in September 2012, Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis wrote, "Experience from extensive data over recent years shows that the same formula very closely fits both 50-over and T20 average totals and also other lengths of matches in between (eg: South Africa's and ECB's 40-over competitions). Consequently, the same single formula satisfactorily covers all the various formats of the limited-overs game."

Consequently, a team chasing 200 needs to be just 46 for 0 if no play is possible after five overs. In a full game, when defending 199, most fielding teams will take the opposition being 46 after five Powerplay overs, never mind the number of wickets, but that perfectly acceptable bowling effort will result in a loss if it rains. In the match that started minutes after the seven-over farce in Hambantota, Australia were declared winners after they reached 100 for 1 in 9.1 overs in pursuit of 192, because rain prevented further play. That they won is not a surprise, but that they would have tied the game even if they were 100 for 5 is. It suggests the five remaining wickets are massively overvalued.

Duckworth and Lewis are learned scientists and they have a formula that the lay follower can't comprehend or access, but it is also obvious that using the same ODI formula doesn't work for high-scoring Twenty20 games. The threat of rain looming over the later rounds of this World Twenty20 has brought into focus the shortcomings of both the minimum overs required for a result, and the method used to arrive at those results.

It needed Sydney 1992 to happen for cricket to seriously start thinking of a proper rain rule in ODIs. It shouldn't take a farcical final in Sri Lanka for T20 to follow suit.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bob on September 26, 2012, 16:05 GMT

    @SIRSOBERS... Sorry to be a pedant.. but what the heck has your post got to do with the D/L system...

  • o on September 26, 2012, 10:48 GMT

    W,I should go for 2 spinners v NZ & ENGLAND out here and maybe even open with Gayle Luke Wright is a slapper like Warner he loves pace on the ball early on but both are weak against spin. I was surprised W.I didn't open with spin v Warner and Watson next time i think that would be a better option.

  • john on September 26, 2012, 9:04 GMT

    Love the title of the article! D/L has damn all to do with cricket, which as we all know, is a totally unpredictable game. T20 is already a bit of a slugfest, so reducing it further becomes utterly ridiculous (e.g. chasing a low target with all wickets intact). The only solution possible is to have extra days to complete a match, which was the case in many world cups in the past.

  • Bob on September 26, 2012, 4:30 GMT

    @ meetagod has it right... a rain shortened T20 match should not be decided mathematically. How could a mathematical formula take account of an unpredictable event...for example; a single over by a bowler going for 36 runs..or even bowling a 3 wicket maiden over. Unlikely events agreed, but not impossible. The only fair way as in other sports is to reschedule the match or extend the hours of play or call it a draw. Why this obsession with what is in effect manufacturing a result.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2012, 4:09 GMT

    Never been a fan of D/L. I strongly believe that one good over can totally change the course of the game. Good example would be Pak vs Nz match, where Pakistan were 91-1 in 10 overs and ended up scoring 177 where as per D/L they might have had 200 odd runs.... Similarly while chasing Nz were around 70 odd runs short in last 5 overs and had the game to be decided on D/L, NZ was out of the game, however the match was very much on till the last over. ICC should consider the amount of money people are spending to watch these matches, so the only way they should repay cricket fans is by completing matches by keeping extra days in the schedule

  • D on September 26, 2012, 2:03 GMT

    I'm thinking that if the rain stops in time permit play on that night, why not just finish the entire 40 overs? I don't agree that the game *has* to get over by 10.30, why not extend it by an hour or two if necessary?

  • Vikram on September 25, 2012, 23:10 GMT

    An interesting alternative would be to reduce the number of players on each side as well, so captains would have to think about leaving out batsmen/bowlers as the number of overs to play decreases. Say, the match is reduced to 12 overs each side, only 8 players would be allowed to play from each side.

  • Narsima on September 25, 2012, 23:03 GMT

    Play the game till the end, without predictions. DL method is as good as head and tail. If we can predict the game result, why do we even play at all. No other sport has this kind of unfair predictions. Introduce rain dates and play till the end. No unfair business. Just winners and loosers, no draws unless it is ended that way. Honestly bring some fair rules into game.

  • Alex on September 25, 2012, 22:57 GMT

    Lets just call it a draw and be done with it.

  • C on September 25, 2012, 22:25 GMT

    > An ODI is considered a match only when the teams have played 20 overs or ended their innings, which is 40% of the original duration. A Twenty20 is considered a match as soon as the teams have played 25% of the original duration.

    This is ludicrous. The smaller the number of "units" (overs in this case), the higher the importance of each unit. So for a T20 to qualify as a match, it should have a *higher* percentage of overs bowled than for an ODI. This is elementary common sense. I too was surprised a 7 over match was considered completed. It was a travesty. The absolute minimum should be something like 60% or 12 overs, though I'd feel more comfortable if the match is rescheduled - similar to how tennis or baseball do it. The game is short enough.

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