Don’t blame the maths for T20 farces

May 5, 2010

CRICKET-TWENTY/Paul Collingwood’s call for change to the Duckworth-Lewis system used to determine a target in rain-hit games was understandable, coming as it did after his England team lost  a match despite scoring three times as many runs as their opponent.

It is not the calculation system that needs revisiting, however, but the broader set-up of Twenty20 tournaments.

Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis have publicly defended the calculation system that bears their names and while there is something grating about seeing West Indies win after scoring just 60 in six overs in response to England’s impressive 191 for five in the regulation 20 overs, it is not the maths that is to blame.

Over two hours of sunlight remained at a stadium that in any case has floodlights when the officials began reducing the overs for West Indies’ innings. A capacity crowd waited patiently for the chance to see a result and in the end saw just a further 3.3 overs of cricket – enough to deliver a formal result but a farcical end to a game when there was all evening left to play the full 20 overs.

Why is the Twenty20 World Cup set up in such a manner, allowing rain to reduce games to nominal results when they could be full-length battles? The simple answer is television. The three overs of excitement are better than a two-hour wait for resumption of play. Twenty20 cricket is perfect for broadcasters who like to have manageable slots for programming.

The demands of television, particularly Indian television, also explain why games are starting at 9.30 am in the Caribbean – on workdays. Twenty20 was designed in England to allow people leaving their workplaces to grab a chunk of exciting cricket action before heading home. With party stands set-up and floodlights in place, there is no shortage of people in Barbados wondering who exactly is supposed to be partying at breakfast time?

But just as the West Indies Cricket Board have reluctantly agreed to schedule games to suit TV, so the players have done a deal, figuratively at least, to perform in a format of the game that is made for television.

If this tournament were purely a sporting contest, then Collingwood and his team-mates would have waited several hours for the rain to pass and then finished the game under the lights. Or they would have come back the next morning and played then in the sunshine. England would have got in their 20 overs, West Indies would have had to beat 191 and there would have been no need for Duckworth-Lewis calculations or any of the frustration.

Any rain-reduced game is going to give an advantage to the team that has a shorter innings to reach a reduced target – five overs is certainly insufficient to be considered a true ‘game’ but even a ten over minimum would produce the same feeling of injustice.

As long as cricket puts the demands of television ahead of paying spectators and a sense of sporting fairness, expect to see many more games ending in such an unsatisfactory manner.

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Yes agree it’s not too much to ask that despite rain interruptions most parts of the world do not have persistent monsoons such that a mere 2x 20 overs cannot be completed in one day. And yes let the TV producers re-schedule programmes. But please don’t let Duckworth Lewis off scot free. How on earth can they claim that their model for 50 overs holds true for 20 overs? West Indies won the game the other night for two reasons. First they had a powerplay which Duckworth Lewis does not calculate for – so come on DL factor in the powerplay and we’d have more respect for the mathematical model. Second – and here’s the tricky bit, the model does not factor in the artificial situation of a team having to go out after rain and have a good slog over a small number of overs to win an artificially reduced total. Well DL there’s only one way to make your model more credible in such a situation – as well as reducing the target number of runs for the team batting second, reduce the number of wickets that the team has in hand to complete the run chase. It’s not rocket science guys, but yes we need your big academic brains to work out for us just how many wickets in hand should be reduced. But here’s my prediction DL – your mathematical model can enjoy in T20 the same amount of credibility it does in the 50 over game. but until you reduce the wickets in hand for the team chasing a reduced total after rain, your model will never be credible for T20.

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