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Cricket's average-busting mathematician Tony Lewis pulls up stumps

University lecturer and half of Duckworth-Lewis passes, aged 78

Eminent British mathematician Tony Lewis has died, aged 78.

Lewis is famous for co-developing the Duckworth-Lewis method, a method of settling one-day cricket matches.

For those unfamiliar with cricket, its infamously lengthy four or five-day matches can end in a draw, so players just live with rain interruptions. The game's shorter forms were devised to produce a crowd-pleasing result in just one day.

In the early years such games were played, scoring targets in rain-interrupted games were set using the very crude method of averaging. If the team batting first made 200 in its allotted 50 overs and the team batting second was only able to bat for 30 overs due to rain, the target to win would be just 121 runs.

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Which was obviously silly because the team batting second could adjust their tactics once they knew their target. International cricket authorities therefore sought alternative arrangements, but they infamously fell apart when a brief rain delay led to a team being asked to score an impossible 22 runs from one ball.

Enter Lewis and his collaborator Frank Duckworth, who took up the challenge of devising a more refined scheme that considers how teams use their resources under the different circumstances created by rain delays of different duration.

The method appreciably improved rain-affected matches and in the process became well known by cricket admirers worldwide – and as India adores cricket above all other sports, that's a few hundred million people.

The method was adopted by international cricket authorities and is now maintained, and updated annually, by Australian professor Steven Stern.

Duckworth and Lewis were awarded MBEs for their efforts, which have even defied Microsoft's Azure-powered attempts at improvement. So well known is their method that a band specialising in cricket ditties took it as their name.

Lewis was a respected academic. He lectured in the faculty of computer studies and mathematics at the University of the West of England and later taught quantitative methods in management at Oxford Brookes University business school.

An archive of Lewis's method-related work includes over 20 years of correspondence and scholarship about his co-creation.

Few mathematicians' names are attached to work that enters the minds of so many people outside academia. Cricket's loyal global fanbase means Lewis's name will ring through the ages. ®


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