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May 14, 1999

The Fiendish Plot of Duckworth & Lewis

Archishman "It's really not that difficult," Professor Lewis or Dr. Duckworth would say, and they are right. And even if its inner workings seem unfathomable to the average bathroom leg-spinner, their system is exceedingly fair. It is not perfect: it cannot be. But, like democracy and the lbw rule, it's the best we got.

Yet, these last few weeks, I notice that the press, especially the English press, has been looking at the honourable professors with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Somebody went to the preposterous extent of saying that if one team scores more runs than the other team, and in fewer overs, then that team should win the match. "How absurd," Dr. Duckworth would say, "scoring more runs in fewer overs has nothing to do with winning a cricket match... .''

Think through this, if you will. Your wife goes out in the morning with \$30 and returns with an exquisite china vase, (or something!). Very good, excellent bargain. You go out in the evening with \$30, and it starts to rain, and you slip and fall and knock yourself unconscious. And when get back to your senses, someone's taken your wallet, so all you manage to bring back are two fortune cookies, which you get for free at the neighbourhood Chinese restaurant, one for yourself and one for her, i.e., your wife.
Who has excelled in the face of unexpected adversity? Surely you! How can you compare the glory of those two miserable, rain-sodden cookies to the crystal vase, or whatever, just a fantastic bargain that's all!

Same principle, if you think about it. When an innings gets interrupted by rain, what should we do? "Simple," says Dr. Duckworth," just look at the state of the game, do some fiendish calculations and plots, and come out with what is essentially a trend of the innings. And that is the answer to your "What if" question. Sounds sensible enough, if the arithmetic is done carefully.

Yet, digging deeper into the innards of the English press, surely I detect too much zeal on the part of the good doctors? Mr. Justin Langer, writing a column instead of a postcard, for the Times of London, mentions a Middlesex versus Kent game that was ultimately awarded to Kent by 0.73 of a run, courtesy the fiendish plot of Messrs Duckworth and Lewis. A fraction of a run? Come on, good sirs, surely you jest! No system, however fair, is that accurate because it is, and always must be, an approximation. It is not an approximation only if you are God, and D/L is not God, inscrutable and unknowable though it may be.

If a match gets that close, where the venerable formula declares a margin of victory of less than one run, the match should be declared a tie. Anything else is just not cricket! Speaking of which, lets wipe the blackboard clean and let the games begin!!

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