Match maths hits the wicket

February 16, 1996

Lord only knows what W. G. Grace, would have made of the World Cup which started this week, complete with limited-over matches, floodlight stadia and players in bright clothing.

But his home city of Bristol may be about to give the limited-over game something it has lacked since it was invented in the 1960s - a fair way of settling matches which have been disrupted by the weather. Tony Lewis, lecturer in mathematics at the University of the West of England and consultant statistician Frank Duckworth have come up with a system they believe is better than those in use either in domestic English competition or in the World Cup.

The cricket authorities have already shown some interest. "We went to see David Richards, chief executive of the International Cricket Conference. We've been invited back to explain our methods to the next meeting of the ICC in July," said Dr Lewis.

The system in British games, using a simple average of the runs per over scored by the team batting first to calculate the target for those batting second, takes no account of either different rates of scoring at various times during an innings or of the difficulty of maintaining high scoring rates.

The system used in the World Cup is better because it at least takes account of the different rates during an innings. But because its formula takes no notice of when an interruption takes place, it can be unfair. The classic example was when a rain break late in the 1992 semi-final left South Africa, who were previously in with a good chance, an impossible 22 runs to score off one ball to beat England.

The new system takes account both of the timing of interruptions and the number of wickets lost, and uses averages based on analysis of ten years of limited-over matches to project a "potential score" target similar in difficulty to that obtaining before the interruption. "Under our system South Africa would have needed four off one ball - still difficult, but a fair reflection of the way the game was balanced when it was interrupted," says Dr Lewis.

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