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The Long Handle

Let's hear it for the mathematicians

There's a sorely underappreciated class of superstar in the IPL

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes
"What do you mean Duckworth Lewis are rock stars? I'll show you rock star"  •  PA Photos

"What do you mean Duckworth Lewis are rock stars? I'll show you rock star"  •  PA Photos

In previous eras, owning a pair of long shorts and demonstrating the ability to lift both feet off the ground in quick succession without falling over was enough to prove your athletic credentials. Anyone who was prepared to interrupt their smoking habit in order to run around in public wearing silly trousers was self-evidently a dedicated sportsperson.
Golfers only needed to be fit enough to amble from tee to tee without getting too wheezy, footballers wore extra-thick jerseys to keep their wobbly bellies under control, and Rugby Union offered many a small, fat, violent person the chance of sporting fame.
Sadly, those days are gone. Now everyone is an athlete, apart from athletes, who have evolved into super athletes, or in some cases, steroid-laced seven-foot-tall super athletes with bulging veins and wild, goggly eyes.
Fortunately cricket still offers a chance for the unathletic to shine. I don't mean those middle-aged veterans who huff and puff under the IPL floodlights, sweating profusely in their bulging polyester shirts like paunchy fathers making up the numbers in a game of family beach cricket (for the love of god retire, Murali, retire!).
No, I'm talking about the mathematical heroes without whom our sport would be lost. The IPL honours their contribution with the Green Biro award for MVA (Most Valuable Accountant), given to the number cruncher who finds the most tax exemptions for their franchise, and the Golden Spreadsheet, awarded to the statistician who plonks the most pointless bit of statistical gristle onto Harsha Bhogle's commentary plate.
And it was these numerate superstars who helped make Sunday's game at the Wankhede such a tense, dramatic, and only slightly confusing festival of biffery.
Mumbai had 12 points. Rajasthan had 14 points. If Rajasthan beat Mumbai, they would have 16 points, Mumbai would still have 12 points, and even Shaun Pollock could work out that this meant Rajasthan would qualify, since 16 is definitely more than 12.
But if Mumbai won, both teams would have 14 so what then? A Super Over? Rock Paper Scissors? A bake-off?
No, it turned out that the answer lay in a mysterious fifth column of the points table, a column packed full of numbers and headed NRR, a column that most of us look at but can't comprehend, like the native people of Botany Bay seeing Captain Cook's enormous boat sailing into view for the first time.
NRR stands for Net Run Rate, which, translated into English, means "You Are Too Stupid To Work This Out, Aren't You?" In my experience, that is the translation for most mathematical symbols and abbreviations, and when I bump into one of these, like a traveller coming across a tarantula-infested cave or a rickety rope bridge over a creek full of crocodiles, I tend to shrug my shoulders and turn back.
But those trained in the dark numerical arts laugh in the face of such danger. The IPL's elite team of maths wizards told us that that we didn't need to worry our pretty heads about NRR as long as we could remember that Mumbai needed to score 190 in 14.3 overs. A global audience dutifully nodded, moving our lips as we attempted to commit the numbers to memory, and the commentators helpfully repeated the equation for us every ten seconds.
Mumbai set off chasing 190 in 14.3 overs with gusto. After 14.1 overs they had 182. Rayudu smashed a six. Now they had 188 off 14.2. Two runs to get off one ball. Then calamity struck the Mumbai Bling! Rayudu got a single but ran himself out and fell to the turf, clutching his face, unable to bear the sight of the scoreboard. Mumbai had not scored 190 in 14.3 overs, ergo, Mumbai had not been successful. It was all over.
But wait. It turned out that business about 190 in 14.3 overs wasn't the full story. After a hurried bring-your-own-calculator party on the field, the umpires announced that Mumbai's net-run thingy wouldn't count until they'd reached 190 and if they could get there with a boundary, they'd be okay. Next ball, Faulkner obligingly coughed up a full toss, Tare lashed it for six and it was all over again, only this time for real!
So congratulations to Rohit Sharma, to Mumbai Indians, but above all to the IPL mathematicians, who not only gave us a humdinger of a cricket match with a twist worthy of Agatha Christie, but who also taught us that total runs divided by total balls multiplied by pi equals the net run rate of the hypotenuse. Or something like that.

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