Friday, March 19, 2010

In Which I Shudder at Change

I've always disliked the Duckworth-Lewis handicap system for one-day cricket, partly because of its quite unnecessary complexity, and partly for the related reason that, being rather opaque, it is not obviously fair. This may not make it unfair, but when it produces an impossibly high target after a few lost overs for a side that was going along quite nicely, or every ball, run or especially wicket causes the DL figure to lurch and bounce about like a drunk in a dark alley, or there is a rush to shorten the innings and calculate a target at the first sign of a drop of rain, even though there is plenty of time left to finish the game, it is hard to avoid the impression that it was bought up after a gleaming pitching session at HQ by men in shiny suits and sunglasses with cybernetic blackboards and laser pointers, and promises of free merchandising products if they got the nod, rather than for what it might actually add to the beauty of the game. It was too clever, and too pretty, to refuse, but what problem was is it intended to solve? Something much, much simpler had always been used. Everyone knew where they were all the time, you could easily change your tactics if there was a chance of rain, and it was both transparent and intuitively fair.

Mind you, being, in all the important things in life, as entrenched a conservative as ever wore tights and walked backwards at the State Opening of Parliament, I never liked this new-fangled limited overs stuff in the first place (even though it's older than I am). So I may well be missing something.

In any case this post is not about cricket, but ski-jumping. Mrs Hickory and I are both fans. They do it mostly at Sunday lunchtime, and there are few better ways of digesting your roast than watching people throwing themselves over cliffs in the frozen wastes of northern Scandinavia (watching the Addis Ababa marathon is up there with it, perhaps). Suddenly, someone has come up with a way of compensating for differences in the starting gate (which had never existed before, everyone jumped from the same gate) and for variations in the wind, which have always been thought of as part of the sport, the rub of the green.

There are two major problems with this that I can see (three if you include the aforesaid conservatism). The first is the same as with DL, that is, although there is a reassuringly complex procedure for coming up with a reassuringly precise figure to add to or subtract from the points total, there is no obvious way of checking that it is fair. The figure is not intuitively meaningful, and so it looks like an arbitrary correcting factor. The second problem is that it diminishes the spectacle enormously. Until now you knew what each jumper had to do to go ahead of the current leader, you could see what he had done, and you could see whether there were any clear technical defects which would cause the judges to mark it down. Suddenly the jump itself is not that important; you have to wait for the machine to spit out the number before you know what's happened. And this is every time, every jump, not just a bad solution to what is in cricket at least a real problem, the rain, but a solution to nothing at all which has made the whole thing much less fun to watch. For that reason I suspect it will not survive. I hope not, anyway.

This may not be important in the great scheme of things, but it got me wondering about how these decisions are arrived at, and I suspect dark plottings, money spinning, and stupidity.

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