The Operation of Chaos in T20 Cricket: Or Why You Shouldn’t Bet against Plain Ol’ Somerset

As untipped as a Senior Serice cigarette, Somerset have upset an apple cart or two by reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 Champions’ League T20 Tournament and they have done so by topping their group and without a single epithet to help them.

Unparallelled, Somerset have shunned the marketing speak that would wish them known as  The Somerset Sabres and now compete as free from artifical additives as a Pennard cider apple.

Second in Group B were the double epitheted Royal Challengers Bangalore who, two matches before, had been bottom of the table with zero points.

Group A perhaps more predictably was topped by New South Wales Blues with the Mumbai Indians as runners-up. So NSW will play RCB on the 7th October and MI will play Somerset on the 8th.

Young people of today might describe Somerset, with grudging respect, as ‘Random’ by which they seek to express their recognition and approval of that team’s traditional manifestation of their beloved ‘wad ever’. 

But even if the result of a cricket match and especially a T20 match is impossible to predict, is it right to say that it is random?

Back in the Nineteen Eighties, the Squire insisted on inviting Benoit Mandlebrot  to guest for him in a match his team was playing in at the small Somerset village of Chewton Mendip.  

Mandlebrot’s selection was not without criticism.  He was certainly not the ‘quick’ he had been, but the Squire was positive that his unconventional action would still surprise the unwary and the over-sure. 

And so it had proved that morning when a young city dealer Down From Town with his bright red braces and infernal new mobile phone the shape of a Stuart Surridge Jumbo, opening for the visitors, had been comprehensibly yorked, believing in, with blind faith until the moment of his utter ruin, his unquestionable ability to forecast the future.  

However, the intellect of Mandlebrot was indisputable and when their own openers went out to bat, he and the Squire took a turn round the boundary to speculate on the regular roughness of life.

“Have you ever marvelled, my dear Mandlebrot,” considered the Squire, “that no cricket field is ever actually a circle?”

“I have been working on this recently, your Grace,” replied the mathematician.  “Neither for that matter are those darkening clouds above us strictly spheres, nor the Mendip Hills perfect cones nor is apple bark smooth, nor for that matter did that flash of lightning over there travel in a straight line.”

“And neither does a cricket match ever take the expected path,” said the Squire, breaking into a trot to regain the Lodge before the heavens opened.

Those with an obsessive interest in the subject will have recognized that these thoughts were later developed in that important work, The Fractal Geometry of Cricket and their meaning made evident in the set of points explored below.

A cricket match is indeed a chaotic system.  Small differences in initial conditions (the hair’s width between a ball missing or hitting the out side of the off-stump) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems such as cricket matches, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.

As the Squire’s librarian and wicket-keeper P. Dia, noted when an early tea was taken, “An arbitrarily small perturbation of the current trajectory (a fine edge to the ‘keeper for instance) may lead to significantly different future behaviour.”

“This happens even though a cricket match is deterministic, by which I mean that its progress is fully determined by its initial conditions, with no random elements involved.

And so, wad ever, the deterministic nature of a cricket match does not necessarily make them predictable.

You can be sure that whenever and wherever Somerset play, not for the first time nor the last, the words of Dasher Denning will ring out across Chewton Mendip. “It’s bloody chaos out here.”

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3 responses to “The Operation of Chaos in T20 Cricket: Or Why You Shouldn’t Bet against Plain Ol’ Somerset

  1. John Halliwell

    Great stuff TM. I switched off when young Buttler was out believing that was that. So delighted they’re still in it. If they win the tournament, will the Mumbai Marketeers (a fine team) be content with no epithet Somerset? If they read your blog, they may nick a few ideas and announce the winners as ‘Somerset Chewton Mendipians’. Chewton Mendip looks a grand place – what a church, worth a visit by itself.

    • Ah, the Mumbai Marketeers! Now there is a team to consider one day.

      Chewton Mendip was of course the birthplace of Peter Denning. His father was the butcher and his mother’s breakfasts were celebrated. They contained enough locally sourced protein to last a three day match.

      The Guardian obit has the young man playing tennis, rugby and football, as well as cricket, at Millfield. This must have been some kind of joke. He was a very able footballer and it was from his sliding tackles in this game that he received his first, and to Third Man’s mind more appropriate sobriquet, “Chopper” Denning.

      It is impossible on a family website to say what he would have done to or with a rugby ball and as for a tennis racket … that too should be left to a cider fuelled imagination.

      He was however a very fine hockey player and it was whilst playing this barbaric game that his front teeth were removed not quite cleanly by an opponent’s stick.

      No-one in their right mind would accept an apple from Denning however pleasantly proffered – it would certainly contain a fine set of upper Denning dentures.

      Indeed, Floreat Somerset Chewtons.

  2. Pingback: It’s A Long Way to Shepton Mallet – It’s A Long Way to Go | Down At Third Man

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