The follow-on is an optional rule in cricket where the team that batted second may be asked to play out its second innings shortly after its first by the opposition. The follow-on rule can come into effect if the difference in runs (lead) between the teams in their respective first innings is greater than a predefined margin.
The follow-on is used in long-format cricket such as international Tests and domestic First Class cricket, where each team is traditionally required to bat twice and cannot win a match until at least three innings have been completed.
Who decides the follow-on?
The decision to enforce the follow-on is made by the captain of the team that batted first in the match. The captain can come to the conclusion of opting for the follow-on if his/her team is in the commanding position and can bring out a result sooner by bowling out the opposition twice within its first innings total
Law14.2 of the Laws of Cricket states: “a captain shall notify the opposing captain and the umpires of his/her intention to take up this option. Once notified, the decision cannot be changed.”
What is the minimum lead required to enforce follow-on?
Law 14 of the Laws of Cricket defines the lead required by teams to enforce the follow-on in accordance with the length of the match.
For five-day Tests or more: a team requires a lead of 200 or more to enforce the follow-on.
In domestic First Class cricket tournaments like the Ranji Trophy, a team needs a lead of 150 or more to enforce the follow-on.
The required lead narrows down to 100 in two-day cricket and 75 runs in a match lasting just a day.
Law 14.1.3 also says that the lead will be trimmed if the first day of a multi-day match is washed out. “If no play takes place on the first day of a match of more than one day’s duration, 14.1 shall apply in accordance with the number of days remaining from the start of play. The day on which play first commences shall count as a whole day for this purpose, irrespective of the time at which play starts.”
Why do teams enforce the follow-on?
Teams enforce the follow-on to remove a drawn match from the equation and capitalise on the opposition’s shaky morale after posting a low total. The captain can also boost his bowlers’ morale by giving another go right away. However, it comes at the cost of their physical exhaustion.
The psychological edge and aggression also play a part in teams enforcing the follow-on when the opportunity arises.
Why do some teams not enforce the follow-on?
The trend of teams opting out of the follow-on has been on the rise in recent years. Captains have been mindful of the physical levels of the bowlers. Teams have also been wary of the unlikely outcome where it would be required to bat last on a pitch that has been worn out and makes it harder to bat on.
How many teams have lost after enforcing the follow-on?
As of December 26, 2022, the follow-on has been enforced in 294 Tests since 1880. However, there have only been three instances where a team lost the Test match after enforcing the follow-on.
Interestingly, Australia was the team on all three occasions to lose a Test after enforcing the follow-on: twice v England and once against India.
Test matches where the team lost a Test after enforcing follow-on:
- Australia (586 & 166) lost by 10 runs to England (325 & 437) - First Innings lead - 261 - Sydney Cricket Ground - December 14, 1894.
- Australia (9/401 dec & 111) lost by 18 runs to England (174 & 356) - First Innings lead - 227 - Headingley - July 16, 1981
- Australia (445 & 212) lost by 171 runs to India (171 & 7/657 dec) - First innings lead - 274 - Eden Gardens - March 11, 2001
- England (435/8 dec & 256) lost by 1 run to New Zealand (209 & 483) - First innings lead - 226 - Basin Reserve - February 28, 2023
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