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Khawaja puts Stern defence of cricket formula to the test

Usman event
Professor Steven Stern, Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja and international umpire Bruce Oxenford.

Newsflash: Cricketer Usman Khawaja isn’t a huge fan of the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method.

Newsflash: Professor Steven Stern (yes, that Stern) thinks it works pretty well.

The Australian Test batter joined the mathematician and international cricket umpire Bruce Oxenford at Bond University last night, March 21, to debate the use of technology in sport.

Khawaja, an MBA student at Bond, is in a triumphant run of form, smashing six centuries for Australia in the past 14 months.

During a long playing career he has also been on the receiving end of what he said were some questionable calculations by the DLS, the formula for deciding revised target scores in rain-affected cricket matches.

Stern, Professor of Data Science at the Bond Business School and custodian of the method that bears his name, gave a fulsome explanation of the calculations underpinning the DLS.

“It's actually it's not that complicated,” Stern insisted amid PowerPoint slides. “It's complicated to build but it's not that complicated to understand and use.”

Khawaja was diplomatic in reply. 

“I mean, it's the best thing we have at the moment,” he said before going on to list his grievances with the system initially devised by English statisticians Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis and adopted by the ICC in 1999. 

Stern further refined the mathematical formula but is yet to reap the full rewards of his toil.

“There's actually an official DLS manager whose only job is to run my software at every match - and only about 5 or 6 percent of matches actually have any rain in them,” he said.

“They get free trips to cricket. I've tried desperately to get this job!”

Oxenford has umpired more than 60 Test matches and almost 100 one-day internationals and is also awaiting his due as the inventor of a small shield that he uses to protect himself from wayward cricket balls.

He developed the device when a colleague was badly concussed after being struck during a match in India.

“I did a bit of research and used polycarbonate that they make bulletproof glass out of. I tested it in the nets against balls at 100 miles per hour,” Oxenford said.

“If I were going to market it, I’d call it the Ox-Block. But at this point, there's only one of them and no one's shown any interest whatsoever.”

As an umpire, Oxenford’s decisions are constantly under the scrutiny of technology including HotSpot, Snicko, HawkEye and the Decision Review System.

“We’re human and we all make errors - it's unavoidable,” he said.

“I'd love to be perfect every time and when I'm not, I’m devastated. But I’ve come to that realisation I can't be perfect and (the technology) corrects my decision-making from somewhere around 90 percent correct to 95-97.”

Khawaja is also in favour of the increasing use of technology in cricket including the DRS, which some fans think slows the game while the third referee adjudicates over replays.

“Cricket is a long game, you just have to accept that,” he said.

“There are times when I don’t totally agree with (a decision) but the technology is very good and accurate.”

Oxenford said there would always be a role for human umpires in cricket.

“Everyone always needs someone to blame,” he joked.

“There’s too much tradition in cricket to not have a person in charge out in the middle.”

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