Duckworth-Lewis: The formula that changed cricket

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The 1992 World Cup semi-final between England and South Africa will forever be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

After winning the world over with their previously vibrant displays in the tournament, South Africa looked well set to reach their first final with just 13 balls left of the game to play.

Brian McMillan and David Richardson required just 22 more runs when disaster struck - it rained.

One 12-minute delay later and they were back on the field, but now the South African pair had to score 22 runs off just one ball and their World Cup dream was brought to a farcical end.

Something had to be done. This injustice - caused by the slightest weather delay - could not be allowed to keep ruining contests at the very highest level.

Thankfully, two fine gentlemen called Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis introduced a new method which has changed the way rain-affected matches are played ever since.

And it was one of the sport's first significant flirtations with data analysis.

These days, cricket fans are all too familiar with seeing teams win via the Duckworth-Lewis method but most don't realise how it actually works...


Previously, the target for the team batting second (Team 2) was adjusted based solely upon the run-rate and usually gave the chasers a big advantage.

Now, though, the new target depends on three main factors (resources):

- number of overs lost
- stage of an innings when the overs are lost
- wickets in hand at the time of the interruption

In its most simplistic format: if the team batting first have completed all of their overs, the target is set by multiplying their score by Team 2's resources.

If Team 1's innings was also affected, it gets a bit more complicated. Team 1's resources are then divided by Team 2's resources and that result is multiplied by the first innings score to determine the final target.

And of course, most importantly, it also takes into account the scoring patterns and data from hundreds of ODI's over the last several years.

As we all know, some of the scores achieved in both the 50-over and T20 formats today would have been considered impossible to attain a couple of decades ago but the Duckworth-Lewis data collection and analysis ensures it remains current.


Now called the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method (DLS), it was always likely to play a factor when the ICC decided that hosting a major international tournament in England at the start of June earlier this year was a good idea.

Nevertheless, the formula came to England's aid when they knocked Australia out of the 2017 Champions Trophy.

In response to the Aussies' 277-9, the hosts looked well on course to win with 240-4 on the board from 40.2 overs when the rain hit.

However, because they still had six wickets in hand at that stage of the innings when the game was halted, England were actually 40 runs ahead of the par score and awarded the win.

England's positive approach to their innings was deservedly rewarded by the margin of victory over their arch-rivals - surely something the ICC must encourage to attract fans to the sport.


It is definitely still not to everyone's liking but the DLS method came into cricket well before its time so it would be incredible if some unfortunate errors didn't occur from time to time.

Even just earlier this year, Kevin Pietersen publically slammed how it is used in T20 cricket after controversially losing a match in the Australian Big Bash League.

"I think Duckworth-Lewis is a waste of space in T20 cricket, it needs to be rewritten," he said.

"The way that we lost two overs and only 11 runs was nonsense.

"I think they need to come up with a new system for it, because one-day cricket does not fit with T20 cricket in terms of the Duckworth Lewis, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish."

Pietersen may have made a valid point but there is no quick fix.

On the whole, it is by far the most effective and comprehensive method currently available.

Of course, there are still ways it can be improved but as we've seen with the recent introduction of WinViz during matches, the accuracy of data analysis in cricket is improving with every match, so surely it is only a matter of time before an even more flexible and updated edition is released to suit everyone.

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