Monday 18 April 2011

Duckworth, Lewis and The New Information

In Smart Mart Amis's The Information, his protagonist Richard Tull writes a literary novel so boring that it induces migraines and nausea in all of the agents and publishers who have to read it. He ends up dragging a sackful of the finished product around America on his back [this sackful turns out to be the total number of printed copies, save for one, which goes on sale in a bookshop but is returned by its purchaser].

Last week saw the publication of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace's posthumous unfinished novel that also sets out to deal with the notion of boredom [some pages of it are - apparently intentionally - so boring they induce much the same reaction as Richard Tull's...]

Also arriving in bookstores [and - full disclosure - free, gratis and for nothing on my desk] is Duckworth Lewis, The Method And The Men Behind It, by [obviously] Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis. Like The Information and The Pale King, it deals with envy, ennui and boredom, although not for the same reasons. And like them too, it is a deeply pleasurable little classic, albeit in a slightly different way.

The collision of theoretical mathematics and cricket is not always a happy one. Both rely on numbers, but similarities end there. The information that throbs behind and between every line in Duckworth Lewis, The Method And The Men Behind It is that the didactic, pedantic, logical mind required by maths is quite different to the less certain, more emotional sporting one.

In this realm of pure logic, in this land of numbers, Frank and Tony's solution to the problem of rain-affected matches is elegant, almost perfect. It's the humans that fuck it up, with their intuition, with their experience and their guesswork. 'Whereas we like to think that the current formula could be written on tablets of stone and left for perpetuity, the truth is that while the game continues to change the formula will always need continual adjustment,' D&L confess stoically.

The method is explained at greater length than the the average reader will ever require, yet the real joy in this book come from its voice, which emerges, brilliantly deadpan, from a prep school essay of the 1950s, and from its anecdotes, which peter out to glorious effect.

The sentence 'Clive Hitchcock's secretary, a young woman called Izzy, came out of the meeting room and gave us a piece of paper with the agenda, showing our slot at 11am' is typical and it's almost genius: with a tweak it could have come from Graham Greene; as it is, it's more like Monty Python. The book is full of them. The anecdotes reach their peak with the tale of the time when Tony Lewis is mistaken for his namesake, AR Lewis the former England captain and MCC president, and receives an invitation to Lord MacLaurin's country estate: 'Usually both of us were invited,' sniffs the text, 'we even discussed whether Tony should turn down the invitation if only he of the two of us was on the guest list'.

Potential schism is avoided when 'Tony quietly informed Lord MacLaurin's PA of the gaffe', and this gentlest of yarns concludes with the note that 'Tony still occasionally receives ARL's communications from the MCC. One envelope contained the agenda papers for a meeting that was due to discipline a well-known player - we shan't name him of course!' Englishness at its most pure.

In its way, Duckworth Lewis, The Method And The Men Behind It is revelatory, its pleasures subtle and all the better for it. I still don't understand the method, despite the pages of patient lecturing, and I misread the charts detailing it at the end. Me and Shaun Pollock have that in common, but I suspect neither of us - nor anyone else - holds it against them.


crownish said...

It needs quite an adjustment to be any good for T20s. Today's IPL match was an example of how the game has changed leaving old notions of scoring behind.

Also, can I find a place in your blogroll:
FC King Blog

Thank you

Tony said...

Just between you, me and the internet, what do you do to get "free, gratis and for nothing" goodies from cricket publishers?

The Old Batsman said...

Just got on a couple of mailing lists for some reason - they have so few outlets for reviews etc these days, you'd think more of them would use blogs.

Pay per head websites said...

I was going to point that what Crownish said in the first comment, but he was way faster than me hahah, nice and well written post my friend

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