Duckworth Lewis

Published: 2011
Pages: 213
Author: Duckworth, Frank and Lewis, Tony
Publisher: Sportsbooks
Rating: 3 stars

Duckworth Lewis

Martin’s Review

Some books are easier to review than others, and Duckworth Lewis is certainly one of the trickier ones that I have encountered during my tenure on CW’s review team. The essential problem is that the Duckworth Lewis Method of dealing with the difficulty of setting targets in rain-affected limited overs matches is, for me, rather like the internal combustion engine. I am certainly grateful that it exists, as it increases my enjoyment of the game’s shorter formats but, if entirely honest, I have little interest in what makes it actually work, the mere fact that it does being quite sufficient. That said I can appreciate that for some, stripped down to its constituent parts, the concept must, like the said internal combustion engine, be a source of considerable fascination.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the authors both have a background in mathematics, a word which still makes me nervous more than thirty years after leaving it behind when I left school. The reader learns something of the two men’s backgrounds in a couple of autobiographical essays at the beginning of the book which, slightly to my surprise are, particularly in Frank Duckworth’s case, really quite entertaining, before the book settles down to an analysis of the difficulties the two men set out to resolve. The history of the problem highlights, as much as anything, the inadequate nature of previous attempts at dealing with it and, as you would expect, that absurd semi-final in the 1992 World Cup, when South Africa’s target against England of 22 from 13 deliveries became 22 from one after a brief shower, takes pride of place.

Since Duckworth Lewis was introduced it has worked so well that it seems surprising that the gestation period of the formula’s introduction was as long as it was. That said we know cricket seldom changes quickly, and there were problems encountered along the way which were the authors do not shirk from, and for those who want to know all about the nuts and bolts of it they are all here, fully exposed to scrutiny. The book concludes with some interesting reflections and thoughts about how the method might evolve further in the future before, inevitably, something appears at the end of the book that looked too much like the logarithmic tables that haunted my adolescence for me to look at closely, but which I assume is a reproduction of what umpires are issued with.

So is Duckworth Lewis a book for the cricket enthusiast, or just for umpires, scorers and those who delight in statistics? The authors have done their best to write a book that will appeal to a wider market although they are inevitably stuck with a subject that is impossible to describe as essential reading. Perhaps the best way to summarise is to simply say that if the subject in the broad sense appeals then this book is well worth reading, mainly because it is not written in a style that will leave those without a love and/or knowledge of statistics gasping for breath. As to a rating I strongly suspect this will be the only book written that is devoted to this particular subject and therefore, despite its rather narrow focus, it is well worth a 3 star rating.

David’s Review

The problem of trying to determine a fair result in rain-affected matches is one that taxed cricket administrators for many years. It became apparent by the mid-1980s that simply using average run rate gave a distinct advantage to the side batting second. Tony Lewis was watching a match between England and New Zealand at Perth in February 1983 when England’s innings was interrupted in the 18th over. On resumption they had only 4.3 overs to try and set a target, which New Zealand reached with some ease. Later came the notorious World Cup semi-final between England and South Africa when the Proteas, after a short delay, found themselves required to make 22 off one ball, being cruelly punished for bowling two maiden overs in England’s innings

The book tells how Messrs Duckworth and Lewis made contact and became two of the best known names, aside from the players, in cricket, by devising a formula which allowed for a fairer target to be set for the side batting second (referred to, throughout, as ‘Team Two’). They also outline the tweaks which were necessary along the way, the reaction to its earliest implementations, and the various challenges and alternative methods offered from around the world.

They have been feted at matches around the world, although they note with some regret that this happens less often than it used to, and they have been at various times the subject of crossword clues, quiz show questions, the name of a racehorse and of a duo who recorded an album of cricket-themed songs! One senses that they are both flattered and amused by some of these arcane tributes.

Although I understand the concept of determining a target based on available resources, I didn’t follow, or try to follow, all the maths involved. In particular the formulas looked completely unintelligible, but there are plenty of references to actual matches where the method was used – generally, but not always, to everyone’s satisfaction – and games where it was not employed but perhaps should have been. This is where I found the book of most interest, as the subjects themselves had fairly uneventful lives before arriving at the method that seems to have ensured them long-lasting fame in Wisden and elsewhere. And it answered something I have wondered about for a long time – how many would D/L have required South Africa to make from that fateful last ball? The answer, it turns out, is four – but as the writers point out, it could have been an unattainable target had they been further behind the clock.

While this will inevitably be of less than universal interest it certainly fits the bill of ‘something a bit different’ and is readable and thought-provoking throughout.

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