There's divine madness in the method – now it's changing

In the outfield
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The Independent Online

Duckworth-Lewis is to change. The system whereby rain-affected one-day matches are decided has been around for five years and is being updated. During its existence the eccentricities of the Duckworth-Lewis method have, like those of Madonna, become known to everybody but are still understood by nobody.

Its mysteries are part of its charm. Few truly grasp the statistical quirks which sometimes mean that the side chasing has to make, say, 230, although the side batting first has managed to score only 200, but most of us have come to accept them. Sky Television commentators are perhaps an exception to this, regularly throwing up their arms, but then that is what Sky Television commentators are there for.

The reason for the amendment is that so many more games have been played since the system was inaugurated. The original computer software was based on several hundred matches played from the early Nineties onwards. Only the first innings were analysed, because other factors come into play in the second innings.

Frank Duckworth, co-founder of the system with Tony Lewis, said that another 1,500 matches have now been included in the data. "I don't think it will make a difference to targets by more than two or three runs," he said.

Duckworth-Lewis's continued presence has given the lie to the oft-touted proposition that sports fans need things to be easy. As long as the DL total required is shown on the scoreboard it is perfectly acceptable. All we need to know is that it is based on the likely totals given the number of overs left in connection with the number of wickets taken.

"If there is an anomaly, it is that it is possible to win a match with a low total by keeping all your wickets intact," said Duckworth. "But then it is a risky strategy for a side to pursue, because a wicket can fall at any time."

The new DL tables are almost ready now – at the push of a computer button – but matches will continue to be decided on old data until next April.

Table manners

It might be worthwhile employing the services of Duckworth and Lewis in other cricketing matters. The new World Test Championship is a case in point. While an official table has been a long time in coming and is therefore welcome, it is also flawed because it is based on series and not on matches.

Take the Ashes series, for instance. Australia have already won by taking a 3-0 lead in the series. It also means that the next two matches are meaningless in regard to the championship. England – stop laughing at the back – could win them both but it would not alter one iota their points in the table.

The International Cricket Council's new chief executive, Malcolm Speed, said that teams set out to win series and this was the basis of the championship. Since some series were of two matches and some of five it meant that a formula would be required to take each individual match into account.

Perhaps it would, but that would surely be better than having nothing to play for. Each match could be worth a certain amount, with the series win worth something additional. Outfield knows not, but somebody else surely does.

They may just be the duet to devise a system to make every Test match count. Never mind the complexities. A win is a win, even under Duckworth and Lewis.

Early day motions

It was said in an official statement that Australia's win inside three days in the Third Test had cost English cricket £315,000. This was the amount the authorities would need to refund to those who had bought tickets for a non-existent fourth day. Up to a point, Lord MacLaurin.

The England and Wales Cricket Board, in their wisdom, sought advice on risk management from the financial services group Alexander Forbes. A conventional insurance premium was clearly prohibitive given the tendency for shorter games. The advice-seeking seems to have worked, though not entirely. Stephen Card, managing director of Forbes' risk services, said: "A three-day finish is bad for those with tickets for the fourth day – but at least the ECB break even." Maybe, then the ECB have not taken all their advice.

They claim that they are covered for £250,000 of losses over the summer. That means that the early finish at Trent Bridge left them only £65,000 adrift.

Any more early finishes, however, and they say they will indeed lose the lot. So, either you can do only so much to manage the risk or the ECB are not managing it fully.

Open and shut out

Collusion between captains to achieve a result was once conducted in secret. The public only knew when the joke bowlers came on. That is another barrier which has apparently been broken down.

When Sussex and the Aussies decided to make a go of their rain-affected match on Friday the word was immediately spread round the world via email. Sussex's public relations officer, Francesca Watson, outlined that Australia would declare on their overnight total, Sussex would go in and leave the tourists a total of 350.

Why, Fran could have been there in the dressing-room negotiations. Sussex, she said, were chasing only their third win against the Australians. In the event, Sussex left them a mere 339 and lost by eight wickets.

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