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In cricket, a follow-on is where the team that bats second is forced to take its second batting innings immediately after its first, because the team was not able to get close enough to the score achieved by the first team batting in the first innings. If the second team to bat scores substantially fewer runs than the first team, the first team have the option of enforcing the follow-on, instructing the second team to bat again immediately. In this case the sequence of batting innings will be first team, second team, second team and then, if needed, the first team again. This is in contrast to the normal progression of batting innings which is first team, second team, first team, second team.
The rules governing the circumstances in which the follow-on may be enforced are found in Law 13 of the Laws of cricket.
The number of runs by which a team must lead to enforce the follow-on upon its opponent is determined by Law 13 of the Laws of cricket, which takes the length of the match into consideration:
Where a match is shortened, the leads required to have the option of enforcing the follow-on are determined by how many days' (or part-days') play remain when the match starts. For example, suppose a match is scheduled for five days, but the first day is washed out because of rain. If the match then begins on the second scheduled day of the match, the team batting first needs a first innings lead of 150 runs or more to have the option of enforcing the follow-on. This only applies to time lost before the first ball has been bowled: if a five-day match starts on the scheduled first day but, say, the second day is completely lost, it still counts as a five-day match for the purposes of calculating the follow-on target.
The follow-on is not automatic; the captain of the leading team decides whether to enforce it. This is a tactical decision which the captain makes based on the state of the game, the conditions of weather and pitch, the apparent strength of the two sides, and the time remaining.
Conventional theory argues that the follow-on is almost always enforced. In his classic text The Art of Captaincy, Mike Brearley deals with the issue in a single paragraph and finds the advantages of doing so overwhelming. Certainly there are strong reasons for enforcing the follow on. The main reason is one of time. In two innings games, for a team batting first to win, it usually needs to dismiss the opposition twice. If it fails to do so, the game will end in a draw. Indeed it is a common tactic for a side which appears to be well-beaten to bat cautiously in its second innings and use up the remaining time so that the game does end this way. Enforcing the follow-on means that the trailing side takes its second innings earlier in the game and will therefore find it much harder to play for a draw by using up time. Another reason for enforcing the follow-on is the positive effect it can have on a team's morale, and the equal negative effect on that of the other.
However, there are several reasons for not enforcing. Firstly and most simply, it is tiring for bowlers to bowl for two consecutive innings, and it may not be as easy to dismiss a side cheaply in its second innings as it was in its first. Secondly, not enforcing the follow-on is a cautious but perhaps prudent tactic which prevents a team from losing. If the side batting first has a substantial lead on first innings, it can add to that by taking its second innings straightaway and either scoring enough runs and/or using up enough time to give the side batting second no chance of victory at all. While this does increase the chances of a game ending in a draw, it can also be demotivating for the side batting second to have nothing to play for. Finally, it is also usually considered a disadvantage to bat last, when the pitch has deteriorated by wear and there are more natural variations to its bounce and ability to take spin. A captain who does not enforce the follow-on avoids this risk, and allows his own bowlers to take advantage of the worn pitch.
In recent years there has perhaps been a trend against enforcing the follow-on in Test cricket. Former England captain Andrew Strauss on several occasions adopted the cautious tactic of taking his second innings straightaway. It has, though, had some notable successes, for instance at Lord's in the 2009 Ashes series. Here, Australia were 210 behind on first innings but did not follow on; England batted again, set Australia a highly unlikely victory target of 522, and won the game easily. For their part, Australian captains Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting were also notably reluctant to enforce the follow-on, although that was perhaps more to do with allowing Shane Warne to bowl on a deteriorating pitch later in the game.
In a four-day Test (with one rest day in the middle of the match), South Africa won the toss, chose to bat, and posted 311. The offspinner Hugh Tayfield took 7-23 to bundle out Australia for 75, giving South Africa a first-innings lead of 236. South African captain Dudley Nourse elected not to enforce the follow-on owing to forecasts of rain, but in their second innings South Africa folded for 99. Thanks largely to an unbeaten 151 from Neil Harvey, Australia made 336 in 123.6 overs to win by 5 wickets.
Canada won the toss and chose to bat, scoring 566 in their first innings and bowling out Afghanistan for 264 in reply, giving Canada a first-innings lead of 302 runs. Wicketkeeper-captain Ashish Bagai, who retired hurt in Canada's second innings, declared with Canada on 191-4 after 40 overs to set Afghanistan a target of 494. The wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad made 214* as Afghanistan scored 494-4 to win by 6 wickets.
Although it is not impossible for a side following-on to win a game, it happens rarely. When it happens in first class games, it is a notable occurrence, with that match being remembered for many years afterwards. It has happened on only three occasions in Test cricket, with Australia losing on all three occasions.
In the first innings of the First Test at Sydney, Australia had scored a massive 586 (Syd Gregory 201, George Giffen 161) and then dismissed England for 325. England responded with 437, leaving them ahead by 176. However, at stumps on the fourth day, Australia were 113 for 2 and looked to be the winners. But heavy rain fell overnight (in this era, pitches were not covered between days of play), and next morning England's slow left-arm bowlers, Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs, were all but unplayable. England dismissed Australia for 166, winning by 10 runs, and went on to win the series 3–2.
In 1981, England's Ian Botham was performing poorly as captain against the touring Australians. The Australian team was rated as second only to the great West Indies team of the time, and contained a formidable pace attack in the form of Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson. After a loss and a draw in the first two Test matches of the summer's six-test Ashes series, Botham resigned the captaincy.
Mike Brearley, the captain Botham had replaced, resumed the reins for the third Test, at Headingley. This started out very badly: Australia scored 401 (John Dyson 102; Kim Hughes 89; Botham 6–95), and asked England to follow on after bowling them out for 174 (Lillee took 4 for 49; Lawson 3 for 32). The one bright point in the innings came from Botham, who top scored with 50 (his first since he had been made captain 13 matches earlier). In the second innings, Botham came to the crease with England on 105 for 5, still 126 behind. Matters did not improve: Geoffrey Boycott and Bob Taylor soon followed, and with England 135 for 7 and still 92 runs behind an innings defeat looked likely.
By all accounts, everyone on both sides thought the game was lost. Ladbrokes famously offered 500–1 against England winning the Headingley Test. When Graham Dilley joined him at the crease, Botham reportedly said, "Right then, let's have a bit of fun." Botham, with able support from the lower order, went on to make 149 not out, and gave England a slender lead of 129. The next day a fired-up Bob Willis took 8 for 43, and Australia slumped to 111 all out.
Australia, who had won their 16 previous Test matches, including the first of the three-Test series between the two teams, had scored 445 in the first innings of the second Test and restricted India to 171; only V. V. S. Laxman (59) and Rahul Dravid reached 25 runs. The only other bright spot for India was the bowling of Harbhajan Singh, who took 7 for 123, including a hat-trick (Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne). Australia then enforced the follow-on.
Laxman came to the crease just before the end of Day 3 and proceeded to change the course of both the match and the series by hitting 281, at that time the record for an Indian Test batsman. He did most of his damage partnered with Dravid, who hit 180; the two were at the crease for the entire fourth day. India progressed to 657/7 in their second innings (a lead of 383), declared shortly before lunch on the final day (giving Australia insufficient time to reach the total, thus securing at least a draw). By tea, Australia had scored 161/3, and a draw appeared the most likely result. Then, within minutes, Australia lost five wickets for 8 runs in a span of 31 balls. Harbhajan took the first two wickets in the same over, followed quickly by three wickets from Sachin Tendulkar. Australia proceeded to fall for 212 in the second innings and India won the match. Despite Harbhajan's prodigious bowling—6 for 73 to go with his seven-wicket haul from the first innings—Laxman was named man of the match. India's 171-run victory was by far the largest of the three Test victories by the team following on (both of England's winning margins had been fewer than 20 runs), and it was only time in history that a side has been able to declare the follow-on innings and still win. India went on to win the 3rd test, and hence the series, with Laxman contributing half-centuries in both innings and Harbhajan, who was named as man of the series for taking 32 wickets.
In 1922 at Edgbaston, Hampshire were bowled out for 15 in just nine overs in reply to Warwickshire's 223 in a 3-day match. Hampshire's total is the seventh lowest score for a completed first class innings. Hampshire were put back in to bat, and then famously scored a mammoth 521 before dismissing Warwickshire for 158 to win by a comfortable 155 runs. Hampshire's first innings total of 15 remains the lowest score for a completed innings by a winning team.
Longest period without being forced to follow-on in Test cricket is held by Australia, who after being asked to follow on by Pakistan in Karachi in 1988, went 190 matches without being forced to follow on until being asked to do so in the fourth test of the 2005 Ashes series against England.