In this post I look at the question of whether or not to enforce the follow on. This is prompted by match that is still just in progress between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, in which Zimbabwe have just avoided an innings defeat after Afghanistan chose to enforce the follow on.
A POTTED HISTORY
OF THE FOLLOW ON
The follow on is a method by which a team batting second who finish their first innings a certain margin behind their opponents can be made to bat again straight away. At first at was compulsory, though the exact margins varied. In the early days of test cricket the required advantage was 80 runs, and on one occasion a first innings score of 172 was enough for England to beat Australia by an innings. That was increased to 100, then 120, and then 150. In the 1890s there were instances of fielding sides deliberately giving away runs so that they would not have to enforce the follow on and that led eventually to it becoming a choice as to whether it would be enforced or not.
THE FOLLOW ON IN ACTION
At Sydney in 1894 when it was still compulsory to enforce the follow on England came back from a 261 run first innings deficit to win by 10 runs. However, two players who made useful contributions for England in their second innings 437, Ford (48) and Briggs (42) benefitted from dreadful dropped catches, and George Giffen made the mistake of not attempting to push the scoring rate along on the fifth evening of a timeless match. Overnight rain coupled with a strong Sydney sun then turned the pitch into a minefield on which left arm spinners Peel (6-67) and Briggs were basically unplayable.
At Headingley in 1981, by when it long been a choice of whether to enforce the follow on or not Australia were again victims of an astonishing come back by England. Richie Benaud, former Aussie skipper turned commentator, fully endorsed Kim Hughes’ decision to send England back in, and there would not have been many doubters when England were 41-4 and later 135-7, still 92 adrift, in that second innings. Even with Botham, Dilley and Old all making significant contributions England only had 130 to defend in the final innings, and when Australia were 56-1 just before lunch on the final day there still would not have been many questioning Hughes’ decision. At that point Bob Willis was given the ball at the Kirkstall Lane End for a last ditch spell to revive his test career. Trevor Chappell could only fend a bouncer into the hands of keeper Bob Taylor, Kim Hughes fell to fine slip catch by Botham and right on the stroke of lunch Yallop was caught by Gatting at forward short leg to make it 58-4. This little clatter to end the morning session was crucial as it gave the Australians a lunch interval to contemplate the fact that for the first time in the match defeat was a real possibility. When Border, Dyson, Marsh and Lawson all fell rapidly after lunch Australia were 75-8 and definitely second favourites. Lillee and Bright smacked 35 in four overs in a final twist to the tale, but then Lillee mistimed a drive and fell to a running, diving catch by Gatting, and a perfect middle stump yorker from Willis accounted for Bright to give England victory by 18 runs.
The third occasion that a test match was lost by a side who enforced the follow on was at Kolkata in 2001, and on that occasion the three heroes were VVS Laxman (281 not out), Rahul Dravid (180) and Harbhajan Singh who bowled Australia out in their second innings. That remains the sum total of test matches lost by a team enforcing the follow on.
One test match has been lost by a team declining to enforce – Australia vs South Africa, when Australia were rolled for 99 in their second innings and SA chased the target down. Frank Woolley in “King of Games” cites an example at first class level, a game he was involved in. Warwickshire, captained by Frank Foster, declined to send Kent in again and Kent’s two left arm spinners, Blythe and Woolley himself each took 5-8 as Warwickshire were bowled out for 16. Kent chased the target down without over much difficulty. Other occasions when sides have come unstuck in the third as opposed to fourth innings of matches include Derbyshire v Essex 1904 when Essex managed just 97 in the third innings, precisely 500 fewer than they had achieved in the first and Derbyshire won by nine wickets, and Lancashire against Warwickshire in 1982, when a sea fret at Southport enabled Les MacFarlane to record a career best 6-59 with his swingers as Warwickshire followed a first innings 523-4 declared (Humpage 254, Kallicharran 230 not out) with 111 all out, and Lancashire won by ten wickets.
TWO RECENT EXAMPLES
In the first match of the recent India v England series England had the opportunity to enforce the follow-on (current margin required is 200, enforcement is voluntary) after India had responded to their 578 with a modest 334. Joe Root chose not to so, and for me he was right, as the pitch was showing signs of deterioration and there was enough time left in the game to build a big lead and bowl India out a second time. The opportunity nearly arose for India in the second game, and again it would have been folly for them to enforce it in the circumstances.
We now come to Afghanistan v Zimbabwe, which series is taking place in the United Arab Emirates (for reasons that should be obvious Afghanistan cannot stage home matches at present). Going into the current match Zimbabwe are one up in the series having won the opener. Afghanistan posted 545-4 declared in their first innings, Hashmatullah Shahidi becoming the first Afghan to score a test double century (200 not out), and Asghar Afghan scoring 164. Zimbabwe were bowled out for 287 in their first innings. With the game already deep into the third of five scheduled days and needing a win Afghanistan enforced the follow on. When Zimbabwe were 142-7, still 116 adrift few would have been questioning that call, but Sean Williams and Donald Tiripano have shown impressive fight, adding 124 so far and getting Zimbabwe to the close of day four on 266-7, an advantage of eight. If Zimbabwe can conjure up another 120 against bowler’s who have had a night’s rest they might make things interesting. However, this does not reflect on the decision to enforce the follow on, which I consider every bit as correct as Root’s decision not to do so against India in Chennai. It would be a poor batting performance to collapse in the face of a target of 130, and if any decision the Afghans have made would be open to question it would be the first innings declaration rather than pushing on past 600.
TO ENFORCE OR NOT TO ENFORCE? THAT IS THE Q
The answer is: it depends on the circumstances. If there is lots of time left in the game and the pitch seems likely to misbehave later then it can make sense not to enforce. Also, if it is the final match of a series and a draw will be sufficient then there is a case for not enforcing as it is slightly less unlikely that you will lose outright if you don’t enforce (though defeat with that kind of lead is rare anyway). If however you are a match down and it is already quite late in the game (the Afghanistan situation) then failing to enforce would be an act of arrant folly. Overall I would say that one should be inclined to enforce, and that there should be a strong reason, as there was in Chennai, for doing otherwise.
Not inappropriately for a post in which a team who could be considered the wrens of the test cricket world have featured so prominently today’s usual sign off is headed by the first wren I have seen in 2021…