The follow-on in cricket is a commonly used term by players, commentators, and fans. For a playing team, avoiding the follow-on allows them to be competitive in a match. If the follow-on is enforced by the fielding team, it is a humiliating act for the batters, who have to continue batting for consecutive innings.
But the follow-on is not used universally in cricket and only applies in some formats of the game. This article will explain what the follow-on is in cricket, when and how it is used, and the advantages and disadvantages of the rule. We will also look at some of the most famous comebacks when the follow-on has been enforced upon a team in international test cricket.
What is the follow-on rule in Test cricket?
The follow-on in cricket is when the fielding team captain makes the batting team continue for consecutive innings. This happens when the first batting team have posted a high score. If the second batting team have not scored enough runs to make a competitive score in the match, they will have to bat again.
It is a rule that can only be used in longer forms of the game, such as test cricket and first-class domestic cricket. These formats last for multiple days, and each team usually bats for two innings. In shorter forms of cricket, like ODI and T20, there is no need for the follow-on rule as each team only bats once during a match.
Ultimately, the follow-on rule is introduced to increase the chances of one team winning a cricket match outright. As a result, draws are uncommon in test cricket if one team scores well and the other team scores poorly – there is little chance of the second batting team to put together a comeback.
The follow-on in cricket is often used when a team has a commanding lead after the first innings. However, it is not mandatory. The team captain will decide whether to enforce the follow-on for their opponent, usually after consultation with other players and backroom staff.
What causes the follow-on?
According to Law 14 in the Marylebone Cricket Club Laws of Cricket, the follow-on can only be enforced in matches of two innings. But there are different run requirements for the second batting team to meet to avoid the follow-on.
Below is a breakdown of the run requirements for different lengths of cricket matches. If the first batting team leads by the specified number of runs, they can choose to enforce the follow-on for their opponent.
- 5-day matches – lead by 200 runs.
- 3-or 4-day match – lead by 150 runs.
- 2-day match – lead by 100 runs.
- 1-day match – lead by 75 runs
As cricket is often affected by adverse weather, professional matches are sometimes shortened. The above rules then apply to depend on whether an entire day is a ‘wash out’ – when play is suspended for one day of a 5-day or 4-day match.
The rules also state that the captain enforcing the follow-on must notify the umpires and opposing captain of their decision. Once the decision has been made by the captain, it stands and cannot be overturned.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
The follow-on in cricket may seem favourable to the fielding side only. It gives them a chance to bowl out the opposition without having to bat again.
However, there are pros and cons to using the rule-based around player performance and playing conditions.
- Momentum: If the fielding team has just bowled out their opponents and secured a lead of 200 plus runs, they will be full of confidence. Often, the team that enforces a follow-on continue to take wickets in consecutive innings because the conditions are in their favour and their bowlers are in form.
- Chances of a quick win: Enforcing the follow-on increases a team’s chances of winning to near 100% and usually leads to a whitewash victory for one side. Ending the match early with a quick win also allows players more rest and recovery time.
- Psychological defeat for the opponent: Just enforcing the follow on in cricket is humiliating enough for the second batting team. But if they are bowled out quickly, and lose the match by an innings, it can affect player form and confidence. This is vital in a long test series of four or five matches.
- Player fatigue: Fielding is more demanding for players in cricket, especially in hot, humid conditions. If the batting team respond and start scoring runs, fielding and bowling for consecutive innings can lead to fatigue and injury.
- Pitch wear and tear: In test cricket, pitches regularly develop cracks and become harder on the surface after multiple days of play. As a result, quick and medium pace bowlers can generate more swing and bounce. Therefore, if a batting team is following on and posts a competitive total, the bowling team will face testing bowling conditions in their second innings.
- A 200 run margin isn’t a guaranteed buffer: The closer a team’s lead is to 200 runs, the less of a guaranteed win they have. Batting standards in modern professional cricket have improved over the past few decades, and the average team score is between 300 and 350 runs per innings in test cricket. To be completely sure of a win, the first batting team would need a lead of at least 300 runs.
Has any team won after a follow-on?
Surprisingly, some teams have faced the dreaded follow-on and comeback to win a match against all odds.
But these occurrences are rare. In the history of cricket, there have only been four test matches where teams have faced the follow-on and won a match. In first-class domestic cricket in England, this has only happened once.
- Australia v England, 1894–95, Sydney: England trailed after the first innings by 261 runs and were forced to follow on. But their 437-run second innings put them in a good position. An exceptional bowling display dismissed Australia for 166, and England won the match by a narrow margin of 10 runs.
- Warwickshire v Hampshire (County Championship), 1922, Edgbaston: The only domestic match where a team has won after facing the follow on. Hampshire could only reply with 15 runs to Warwickshire’s 223 in the first innings. But Hampshire replied with an almighty 521 before bowling out Warwickshire for 158 and winning by 155 runs.
- England v Australia, 1981, Headingly: England trailed Australia by 227 runs heading into the third day of the 1981 Ashes at Headingly and faced the follow-on. Things looked bleak until Ian Botham produced one of the most famous innings in Ashes history, scoring 149 not out and leading his side to a 129-run lead. Australia fell for 111 runs, and England completed the most unlikely of comebacks.
- India v Australia, 2001, Eden Gardens: Australia, a team who had won 16 straight test matches, led India by 279 runs after the first innings. But VVS Laxman and Raul Dravid posted massive scores of 281 and 180 and guided India to 657 for 7 declared. Australia couldn’t reply to the target of 384 and were bowled out for 212 in their second innings.
The follow-on in cricket has been a cornerstone of the game since the late 19th century. It is a universal rule that has stood the test of time, and it has not been altered in a bid to make cricket more entertaining or exciting.
Enforcing the follow-on is the ultimate reward for a team’s impressive batting and bowling in a match. Once the rule is used, a team usually has a commanding position, and it adds a near guarantee of victory for the fielding team. For the batting side, the follow on is the ultimate source of embarrassment.
However, it is not completely favourable if the first batting side posts a strong score. There are some downsides to using the follow on, hence why it is not mandatory to use in long-form cricket.