What is Follow on in Cricket? Everything You Need to Know!

In Test cricket, each side is allowed to bat for two innings. However, the ‘follow on’ rule means that a side can win the game by only batting for one of their allotted innings. This often creates confusion about what exactly does follow on mean in Cricket!

In Test Cricket, the ‘follow on’ rule enables the team batting first to take advantage of a significantly lower score made by the team batting second. To initiate the follow on, the team batting first needs to have a lead of at least 200 runs at the end of the first innings of the Test Match.

The ‘follow on’ is an important aspect of the tactics of Test Cricket. So, it’s important that you understand it if you want to have a greater appreciation for the longest and most traditional form of the game.

What are the Rules for Follow-on in Test Cricket?

The rules for enforcing a follow on are pretty straightforward. As mentioned above, the only key rule that the teams need to keep in mind is that of the 200 run difference at the end of the first innings.

This means, If Team A bowl out Team B by 200 runs fewer than Team A’s first innings score, they have the option to order Team B to ‘follow on’.

For instance, Team A bats first and scores 450 runs. However, Team B could not play well enough and managed to score only 225 runs. Now, since the Team has a lead of 225 runs (which is greater than 200), thus they now can enforce the follow on on Team B.

Enforcing a follow on allows you to take advantage of the low score by the other team and win the match faster and more easily.

Does the 200 Run Limit Change at all for Follow on?

The ‘follow on’ rule varies depending on the length of the game being played.

In 5-day test matches, the 200 runs limit is enforced for games in which there has yet to be any major loss of play due to weather.

Here’s how the 200 run rule changes with the change in the number of days for which the Test Match is played for –

  • 150 runs – 3 or 4 days in a Match
  • 100 runs – in a 2-day match
  • 75 runs – in a 1-day match

In matches of 3 or 4 days, such as those played in the County Championship, the limit is 150. While in 2 and 1-day matches where two innings are played by each team this is reduced to 100 and 75 runs respectively.

It is also important to note that if a 5-day Test Match is affected by rain or severe bad light impacting the number of days on which cricket can be played, the total lead required to enforce the ‘follow on’ changes as per the number of days available for play.

If, for example, day one of a 5-day test match was lost to rain, then the rules applied to a 4-day match would come into action.

What is the Significance of 200 Runs for the Follow on Rule?

Over the entire history of Test Cricket, the average score amassed in a single innings is 324. Therefore, if a team were to be bowled out for 200 runs fewer than this (124) then they would be yet to reach even half of the total set by the side who batted first.

As a result, it is likely that if the team were forced to bat again then they might again be bowled out for a similar score.

The ‘follow on’ was first introduced in the 1700s when it was simply customary that if a team trailed after the first innings that they would immediately bat again. This became a law of the game through the 1800s, although the margin of difference required for a compulsory ‘follow on’ ranged from 80 to 120 runs.

It was in 1980 that the current rules were introduced, which made the ‘follow on’ optional and set the current framework upon which to base the 5-day limit of 200 runs.

What are the Advantages of Enforcing a Follow on?

There are a number of reasons why as captain might chose to enforce the opposition to ‘follow on’.

In most cases, they would choose to do so in order to continue the momentum that has been shown in their first bowling innings. If they bowl again immediately, then the conditions will be very much the same as they were first time around. As such, the bowlers are likely to provide similar results again a second time.

To that end, the changing conditions throughout the five days of a test match are often significant in a captain’s choice to enforce the ‘follow on’. For example, if rain is forecast later in the week but the team has the chance to quickly bowl out the opposition for a second time before then, it makes sense to press on and get the game wrapped up as soon as possible.

In many instances, the reason is psychological. It is demoralizing for the team who failed to pass the threshold to avoid the ‘follow on’ to have to go out and face the same bowling attack again without any great break. Similarly, the bowling side will also be filled with confidence – which will increase their chances of repeating the successes of the first innings again.

Ultimately, if you could potentially win a game without having to spend a day or two sitting in the stands watching your team bat; why wouldn’t you take that option? There aren’t many people in the world who, given the opportunity, wouldn’t clock off early if they’re given the option – and cricketers aren’t any different.

Does Enforcing the ‘Follow on’ Make Winning more Likely?

Statistically speaking, the chances of losing a test match after enforcing the opposition to follow on are close to 0%. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, however.

Although, that has only happened at the international level on three occasions. In each case it was a once in a 100-year event – happening in 1895, 1981 and 2001.

That said, if you enforce the follow on then there is a good chance that the game will, in fact, end in a draw. Analysis shows that there is a 10% higher chance that the match will end in a draw if the ‘follow on’ is enforced.

Therefore, in spite of all these perceived benefits of enforcing the ‘follow on’, the data suggests that teams are increasingly unlikely to win simply by enforcing the opposition to do so.

As a result, teams are similarly less likely to enforce the opposition to ‘follow on’. If you look at test matches played between 1981 and 2001, it was the case that in 94% of matches where the follow on was an option – the teams chose to enforce it. However, in recent years this number has fallen to just 56%.

Who Makes the Decision to Enforce the Follow on?

Indian Captain Virat Kohli (Image Credit)

Since the rules were changed so that the ‘follow on’ was not compulsory, it is up to the discretion of the captain of the team who batted first as to whether or not his team enforce it.

The captain only has to make this choice once the opposing team have been bowled out for the first time. However, the rules state thatA 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.’ Therefore, it is not a decision which the captain can mull over for very long.

They must make the call almost immediately at the end of the innings and be ready to carry on very shortly after, often with very little break between.

Why might you Choose NOT to Enforce the Follow on?

Ultimately, a margin of 200 runs is often not quite the safety net that it once was. This is partly because teams now total an average a total of 20 runs more than they did when the law was introduced in 1980.

Teams now regularly score in the region of 350 runs in their first innings. So, even if you lead by just over 200 runs then the chances are you will have to bat again anyway.

Then captains must also consider the bigger picture of the series they are playing in. Typically, a test series is three matches long and so a single draw could be the difference between winning and losing the series. Therefore, a captain is often more likely to bat again, at least to build up a lead of 300 runs, in order to increase the chances that the game will result in a win.

Does the Pitch Condition Play a Role in the Decision to Enforce Follow on?

A deteriorating cricket pitch (Image Credit)

Alongside the statists which show that enforcing the ‘follow on’ doesn’t guarantee a victory, it’s also important for captains to consider a number of practical factors relating to the play of the game which will influence their decision when faced with it.

For example, if you are required to then bat for your second innings and chase a score, this can be made difficult by the conditions of the pitch on the final day or so of play. As the game goes on, the pitch will deteriorate. This means that spin bowlers will be able to get more turn and bounce off the surface of the pitch, which can make life very difficult for batsmen.

If a team are chasing even a relatively small total of 150 runs in the final few sessions of play but the pitch is not favourable to the batsmen, then reaching the winning mark can be slow progress.

Therefore, while the changing conditions can in some cases prove a reason to enforce the ‘follow on’, they are also a cause for concern in other cases.

Finally, one reason for the follow on being less effective in the modern game than it might have been in the past is that it is much harder for bowlers to perform to a similarly high level in the first innings as the second, if they are asked to do so back to back.

Fast bowlers, who would be tasked with bowling the opening overs of the second innings due to the condition of the new ball which will be used, might have just bowled upwards of 15 overs each in the first innings.

Considering that they are sprinting at full-tilt with and generating a significant impact on their joints each time they bowl the ball, it is often unlikely that a team will get the same level of performance out of their top bowlers as they did in the first innings if they are not given a break between innings.

Is the Follow on used in Any Other Formats of the Game?

Of course, the follow on can only be brought into action in games in which each team is able to bat for two innings each. Therefore, it is not something that needs to be considered in T20 or One Day matches.

However, as mentioned, matches where teams bat twice take place in various formats outside of International Test matches – where you will most often hear about and see the ‘follow on’ being used and discussed. Most notably, County Cricket in England and the Sheffield Shield in Australia are examples of First-Class cricket where the ‘follow on’ rule might come into play.

India vs Australia – Historic Follow on Match in Cricket

The probability of losing a match after enforcing the follow-on is very less. The team on which follow-on was enforced has won only 3 times in history. It is quite an interesting fact that it has been Australia who has faced the defeat all three times after enforcing the follow on!

Video of the historic test match between India and Australia. India won the Test Match despite being forced to follow on.

At that time, Australians have come to India with a winning streak of 15 matches and were known as the Steve Waugh’s Invincibles! They had won the series in the toughest of the conditions and against fiercest of the competitors!

Moreover, Australia was confident and determined to win the series at they hadn’t won a Test Series in India for over 20 years! Thus, a series win in India was their last frontier.

Adding to the 15-match winning streak, Australia had already won the first test match at Mumbai comprehensively taking the winning streak to 16 matches.

At Eden Gardens at Kolkata, in the 2nd Test Match between India vs Australia test match, Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. They scored a good total of 445 runs with Steve Waugh(110) and Hayden(97) in their 1st innings.

Harbhajan Singh lead the bowler for India by taking 7 wickets in the first innings including a first hat-trick by an Indian in Test Matches.

India struggled and managed to score only 171 runs in their 1st innings with Laxman’s (59) brave innings. Thus, Australia got a huge lead of 274 runs, and their captain Steve Waugh choose to enforce the follow-on on India.

So, India came-in to bat again. What seemed like a match that would have been over in the next 90 overs, completely turned on its head! India’s VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid both batted sensationally and changed the course of the game.

What demoralized the Australians that they couldn’t seem to find a way to get a single wicket for the complete 4th day’s play! Neither Laxman nor Dravid got out and they paved a huge score for India.

Their partnership of 376 runs is the highest 5th wicket partnership for India was the highlight of the innings. Laxman ended up scoring 281 runs, which was the highest score by any Indian batsman at the point, while Dravid was run-out on 180 runs.

India declared their innings at the score 657/7 and gave Australia a target of 383 runs. While the time was insufficient to chase the target and it seemed like the match was heading towards a draw.

By tea, Australia had scored 161/3, and a draw appeared the most likely result. But within a few minutes, their batting collapsed. Harbhajan took 2 wickets in one over followed quickly by three wickets of Sachin Tendulkar.

Australia got all-out on 212 and India managed to win the game by 171 runs. In 2nd innings, Harbhajan took six wickets and gave a remarkable contribution to the match.

For his extraordinary performance, VVS Laxman was awarded man of the match award. His innings of 281 and the performance full of grit and determination to almost single-handedly fight against a mighty Australin team earned him a nickname of “Very Very Special Laxman

India went on to showcase a spirited performance in the 3rd Test Match in Chennai. The match was also very closely fought, but India managed to win in Chennai as well and thus win the series 2-1 against the mighty Australians! Not only could Steve Waugh not capture the final frontier, but his team also couldn’t go past the record of 16 consecutive victories!

Shrot Katewa

Shrot is an avid cricket fan! He has played and endorsed the sport ever since he was in School. In fact, he played as a professional cricketer represented his state team in National Indoor Cricket Championship held in Pune, India. Shrot loves the game, loves talking to other people who play the game and share his learnings with other interested individuals. He is the founder of CricketMastery.com. This website is a culmination of his desire to help others understand this wonderful Game of Cricket!

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