Frank Duckworth, statistician who co-devised the Duckworth-Lewis Method of deciding cricket matches – obituary (2024)

Frank Duckworth, who has died aged 84, was a statistician who was one half of the duo behind the Duckworth-Lewis Method of setting batting targets in rain-affected one-day cricket matches; in 2011 the Telegraph described the pair as “the connoisseurs of the rain delay, the gourmets of reduced overs”.

Duckworth first presented a rudimentary version of the system in 1992, and with Tony Lewis went on over the next few years to examine the scoring pattern in thousands of matches to produce percentage-based tables for 40-, 50- and 60-over games (20-over calculations for T20 matches came much later).

When the Method, often abbreviated to D/L, was formally introduced in 1997, Clive Ellis in the Telegraph’s cricket diary observed of its genesis: “Five years’ research of almost atom-splitting complexity have been condensed into a piece of arithmetic which can be done in two minutes with a calculator on the back of an envelope.”

Duckworth had what he described as his “Waikiki moment” – the day in 1995 when he hit on the right formula – while staying in a Hawaii hotel. His calculations depended on what he termed the two “resources” – the number of overs left to be bowled and the number of wickets remaining. At any point in an innings, a team’s ability to score more runs depends on the combination of these two resources.

Today, the Method is administered via an app, and was used this week at the T20 World Cup to decide the result of Afghanistan v Bangladesh; an Afghan victory meant that Australia were eliminated.

Frank Carter Duckworth was born in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire, on Boxing Day 1939 to Eric, who ran a building company, and Annie. He attended the nearby grammar, King Edward VII School, then studied physics at Liverpool University, going on to take a PhD in metallurgy there.

It was while he was doing his postgraduate work that he lived for a while in 1962 at John Lennon’s house in Woolton, where the Beatle’s Aunt Mimi took in lodgers. Duckworth had not heard of the band, who were yet to hit the big time, and spoke only once to Lennon – a conversation that would not go on to form part of the Fab Four legend: “I said, ‘Hello, John,’ and he said, ‘Um’.”

Duckworth went on to spend his career at the Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories in Gloucestershire, initially under the auspices of the Central Electricity Generating Board, which became National Power and then Nuclear Energy plc. Though he started out as a metallurgist he discovered that he had an ability to extract useful information from numerical measurements and retrained as a statistician. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1974. He took early retirement in 1992, going on to spend 20 years as editor of the RSS News.

That year, during the cricket World Cup semi-finals in Australia, a rain delay left South Africa, under the old system, which clearly favoured the team batting second, requiring 21 runs off one ball to beat England, a patently unfair formulation. The BBC commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins lamented: “Surely someone somewhere can come up with something better.”

This set Duckworth thinking, and at the 1992 RSS conference in Sheffield, he presented a paper, “A fair result in foul weather”, suggesting a better formula for setting rain-affected targets.

Tony Lewis, another Lancastrian cricket fan, and a mathematics lecturer at the University of the West of England in Bristol, heard about it. Realising that he and Duckworth were neighbours he got in touch, and the pair began meeting regularly at the Pickwick Inn in Lower Wick.

In 1995 Duckworth had his “Waikiki Moment”, and the Duckworth-Lewis Method had its first outing during a one-day international in Harare between Zimbabwe and England in January 1997: Zimbabwe had made 200, but the tourists, having lost eight overs to rain, were given a D/L target of 185, which they failed to reach.

The Method was formally adopted by the International Cricket Council in 1999 and has been in use ever since. In 2014 the Australian statistician Steven Stern picked up the baton, adapting D/L to suit modern scoring trends, especially in the era of T20 cricket (20 overs per side), and the technique is now more correctly referred to as the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern Method.

When Neil Hannon, of the melodic rock band Divine Comedy, formed a new, cricket-themed duo with Thomas Walsh, he called it the Duckworth Lewis Method; their first and only album, released in 2009, featured such tracks as “The Coin Toss”, “Gentleman and Players” and “The Nightwatchman”.

Duckworth and Lewis were appointed MBE in 2010.

Frank Duckworth is survived by his wife Jeannie, whom he met through mutual friends, and by their daughter.

Frank Duckworth, born December 26 1939, died June 21 2024

Frank Duckworth, statistician who co-devised the Duckworth-Lewis Method of deciding cricket matches – obituary (2024)

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