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L'affaire Duckworth & Lewis

By Ranjith Jayaram
March 06, 2003 14:04 IST
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"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."

-- Albert Einstein

In light of the cricketing public's reaction to the already infamous match between South Africa and Sri Lanka, Einstein's assertion must be re-evaluated. To a number of those who have been involved with the World Cup -- players, administrators, commentators, reporters, and fans -- the Duckworth & Lewis rule seems to have supplanted income tax as the hardest thing in the world to understand.

Before you close this window, let me reassure you that this is not yet another tutorial on the D&L method. It is an attempt to answer some of the legitimate questions about the conduct of the particular match in question and to clear what are, in my opinion, certain misconceptions that seem to be prevalent amongst cricket lovers in the post-match scenario.

I'll use Pritam Sengupta's elegantly written article on, in which he argues that the procedure adopted to decide the fate of the match must be questioned, as a reference point. Mr. Sengupta has lucidly articulated the concerns many cricket fans have and I shall attempt to tackle these.

Mr. Sengupta's article can be summarized thus:

1. Why should the batsmen in the middle be denied the right of knowing the correct target? The "hidebound" umpires should not have prevented Nicky Boje from carrying information about the target to Lance Klusener and Mark Boucher.

2. Batsmen do not have a photographic memory. It is ridiculous to expect them to carry with them or remember the entire D&L table when they go out to bat.

3. There should be a communication channel established between the umpires on the ground and the third umpire or the match referee that will enable the batsmen to enquire the correct target.

4. It is stupid that the D&L table has the scores required to tie a match, and not to win the match.

5. It is an outrage that the paying cricketing public has no clue about what is going on. There must be a mechanism instituted so that information can be disseminated to the spectators on the ground.

These are all points well taken, and it would certainly make life easier for the batsmen if cricket administrators were to address issues 1 to 3. But none of these problems are of a nature so insurmountable that they can be said to have contributed towards the South African defeat. Not just that, with a little bit of foresight and common sense, the South African team management could indeed have overcome these apparent problems.

Issue 1: Hidebound Umpires (or: Are These Umpires or African Rhinos?)

The umpires merely stuck to the rulebook, which, as Mr. Sengupta himself points out, does not permit the twelfth man to come on the field during the course of an over carrying instructions. From the umpire's perspective it is irrelevant what the instruction being carried is -- it could be something as mundane as telling the batsmen to up the scoring rate, or it could be something of match-deciding (or who knows, even World Cup deciding) importance like the revised target.

It could be argued the umpires stuck to the rulebook in letter, but not in spirit. The fallacy of this argument is that it defines 'spirit' from the perspective of the batting side, which need not necessarily be, and often is not, the 'spirit' in which the fielding team views the game. Consider an alternative scenario in which umpires Steve Bucknor and Srinivas Venkataraghavan had allowed Nicky Boje to come on the ground and let the batsmen know the target. (It is, as Mr. Sengupta points out, immaterial whether the target Boje carried was correct or not) It is entirely plausible that this delay might have taken up just the right amount of time to cause the umpires to call off the play after the fifth ball of that fateful last over had been bowled. The result: a South African victory. And how would that have fit in with the Sri Lankans' idea of 'spirit'? Not very well, I'd imagine. The Lankans would then have had a legitimate grievance against the umpires for having delayed the game so that the batsmen could get to know about something that they are supposed to know already. (We will come to why they are supposed to know in just a while.)

One could even argue that the umpires stuck to the rulebook in spirit as well -- the true spirit at that point in time being letting the game continue uninterrupted for as long a duration as possible.

Issue 2: The Cumbersome D&L Table (or: Are These Cricketers or Mountaineers?)

A common misconception doing the rounds is that batsmen need to carry the entire D&L table with them and it is physically impossible for such a task to be accomplished without turning them into the hunchbacks of Kingsmead. Krishna Prasad, in his inimitable style, quipped on rediff radio that the batsmen would have to carry a knapsack in which the D&L tables would be neatly rolled in.

Mr. Sengupta is right when he says that it is implausible to expect batsmen to remember the 500 or so numbers on these tables. (To be precise, the entire ball-by-ball D&L table for 50 overs would have 3000 numbers.) But the point is, the batsmen need not carry with them the entire table. A very small list of numbers, which can easily fit into a tiny scrap of paper, will do, much like a cheat-sheet for an examination.

The rules state that if the team batting second cannot bat for a minimum of 25 overs, the match will be deemed as incomplete and thus abandoned. This renders the D&L table for the first 25 overs irrelevant and straightaway halves its size (Updated size: 1500 numbers).

If I were the coach of the South African team, this is what I would have done, at the very least:

1. Keep in mind that the targets are not changing as often as many of us believe they do. The targets are revised only when a wicket falls, or when there is an interruption in the play. In either situation, there is enough time to send very useful information with the batsman going out to bat, without having him resort to number crunching in the middle.

2. Ignore ball-by-ball targets and concentrate on over-by-over targets. This cuts down the D&L table's size by a factor of six. (Updated size: 250 numbers).

3. The batsmen out there in the middle need to know the targets corresponding only to the number of wickets remaining at that particular point. This further cuts the maximum size of the D&L table a batsman needs to have while batting by a factor of ten. (Updated size: 25 numbers).

In the context of the SA-SL match, Shaun Pollock, who went out to bat in the 29th over would have carried a list of twenty-one relevant numbers -- the targets for each of the twenty-one overs to follow, calculated based on the fact that 5 wickets had fallen. Pollock and Boucher would have used this list as a guideline while they were at the crease. When Pollock was dismissed, Boucher would have shredded that piece of paper, and Lance Klusener, who went out to bat in the 43rd over would have carried an updated list of seven numbers -- the targets for each of the seven overs to follow, calculated based on the fact that 6 wickets had fallen. Seven numbers do not require batsmen to be knapsacked moutaineers, do they?

Of course, it is still desirable to have a communication channel between the umpires and the third umpire or the match referee, in tight situations where the batsmen would want to know the target on a ball-by-ball basis, or the impact that the loss of a wicket would have. But the absence of such a channel does not choke off important information and, when a simple scheme as the one outlined above is used, is more often than not, far from life threatening.

Issue 3: Whoa! The Scores Were for a "Tie", Not a "Win" (or: Is He Pollock or Pythagoras?)

There are certain reasons why the D&L table contains the score to "tie" a match, and not to "win" it, but I will not go there. Instead, let us ponder over this question: should cricket administrators assume that cricketers, who display no lack of mathematical sense when it comes down to asking for customs exemptions for their imported cars, are such miserable morons that, given a number to tie the match, they cannot calculate the number(s) to win it?

Issue 4: We, the Public, Have a Right to Information (or: It is the Public's Turn to Come Up With Something Here).

Undoubtedly, we do. It is outrageous that people who have paid through their noses and who, with every passing tense moment lose a few precious hours from their remaining lives, are completely kept in the dark as the light fades (pun intentional) and the rain comes down.

Let us ask ourselves the flip side of the question here: What excuses do the much-vaunted professional cricketers of the South African team - to watch whom adoring fans had paid hundreds of rands and worn hearts on their cricketing sleeves for -- have to cover up their "humongous cock-up" which has left their fans stranded without a team to root for and left the rest of us to rue the absence of "Africa's most professional team"?

Ignorance of the law is no excuse to break it. Sanath Jayasuriya obviously knows the import of this principle, for he gleefully said after the match: "We knew that it (229) was for the tie -- I had the sheet in my hand. I had the sheet when it started to rain."

If Sanath knew, why didn't Polly?

Could it be that for Sanath Jayasuriya, the hardest thing in the world to understand still remains, the income tax?

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Ranjith Jayaram