Dr Tony Lewis MBE

Dr Tony Lewis
Dr Tony Lewis
Mathematician and cricket aficionado
BSc Mathematics 1964, MSc Probability & Statistics 1966
We spoke to Maths alumnus Dr Tony Lewis about his time at Sheffield, his passion for sport, and how together with his collaborator Frank Duckworth, he created the influential Duckworth-Lewis method for helping establish the outcomes of cricket matches.
Dr Tony Lewis

Tony sadly passed away in March 2020. This interview took place in 2016 and looks back on his time at Sheffield, as well as his life and career since.

What initially attracted you to study maths?

Maths was my best subject at school and the one that I found most interesting, and challenging, at A Level

What attracted you to study at Sheffield in particular?

The University of Sheffield was the only one kind enough to offer me a place on a Maths course after A Levels! I’m afraid nothing more exciting than that.

And what was your first impression on arriving in Sheffield?

That it was very hilly! My first two years I was in digs in Norton Lees on the hill up to the sports ground.

What were some of your favourite things to do, aside from studying?

My major extra-curricular activity was rugby union. I managed to get into the first team in my first year and was a regular member of the team for three years. Playing twice a week and training left little time for other activities. We got to the UAU final in 1964, only to be beaten by Loughborough Colleges who had two internationals at the time playing in their team along with several others who subsequently became internationals.

Do you get much chance to return to Sheffield, and is there anything you miss about the city?

Since finishing my MSc in 1966 I have not visited Sheffield very often; and mostly for giving or hearing talks within the Yorkshire Chapter of the Operational Research Society. I note however many changes on my visits which have made the city centre much more pedestrian friendly. And of course there has been enormous growth in the University itself.

Have you stayed in contact with your university?

I have stayed in touch since graduation receiving the periodic newsletter and so have always been aware of the alumni service and its predecessors. I think it’s very important to stay in touch and I’m sad that I’ve not seen very many of my contemporaries from either the maths department or the rugby club on alumni days.

After graduation where did your degree take you?

After my postgraduate studies I spent most of my time in the academic world, but with spells in industry and on consultancy projects involving Operational Research. In particular I’ve served at Wrekin College, Shropshire; Leicester Polytechnic; Wolsey Knitwear, Leicester; Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia; Western Australian Government Railways, Perth; University of the West of England; and Oxford Brookes University.

In 2010 you were awarded an MBE for Services to Mathematics and to Cricket, for the creation of the Duckworth-Lewis Method. For those not in the know can you briefly explain what this is?

The D/L (for short) Method is a way of adjusting the target for the team batting second in one-day cricket matches that have been shortened after they’ve started due to rain or other causes.

The game of cricket had struggled since the 1960s with this problem as the methods used, although simple to understand and apply, were too often very unfair to one of the teams. The problem is created by cricket’s unique playing structure such that the two teams are affected differently if a match is shortened. It took a realisation by Frank Duckworth and I that it was a mathematical problem that required a mathematical solution to create a fair method of target adjustment. The innovation was to use standard mathematics to capture the inter-relationship of runs that are scored on average from the resources that a team has, namely the overs a team has left and the number of wickets a team has in hand. This led to a logical way of adjusting the target based on the relative run-scoring resources that the two teams have available.

How does it feel to have had such an impact on the world of cricket, and to be able to demonstrate a practical and understandable use of maths?

It is a very satisfying feeling that the innovation is being applied worldwide and has been in use now for nearly 20 years. The cricketing world is generally very happy with how the method works (except for captains when they lose by the D/L Method!). And the academic world has been very enthusiastic at the practical use of mathematics and at its penetration into a sceptical non-mathematical world. Several journal papers have resulted and I’ve given talks at many conferences around the world. That’s been hard work but I felt I had to do it!

And I suppose it is a great excuse to watch as much cricket as possible?

Absolutely! I love seeing matches live typically at Lord’s, London and also at The Parks, Oxford with occasional invitations into corporate boxes. And I have Sky Sports TV to watch cricket extensively at home.

Now that you have retired how do you spend your time, and do you have any more goals to achieve?

When not watching cricket my wife and I love to travel. We probably take four or five overseas trips a year; sightseeing, escaping the worst of the weather and visiting family who are spread in Canada and Australia, as well as Britain. I play golf and Bridge but otherwise I’m happy now to rest on my laurels.

What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self or a Sheffield newcomer?

It might be to advise that life is not too short. When young it is the best time to broaden experiences, experiment with activities you’ve not done before. Had work-placement programmes been around as part of degree courses in the early 1960s I think I’d have benefitted enormously from exposure to the wider world before embarking on my career.