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What is follow on in cricket – When can it be applied?

If you’ve ever found yourself curious to know what is follow on in cricket, you are not alone. The follow-on rule is exclusive to Test cricket. If the team batting first has a first innings lead of over 200 runs after the conclusion of the second innings, they can ask the team batting second to bat immediately again in the test match.

Like many other concepts surrounding Test cricket, the follow on rule is also extremely intriguing and poses many questions among new fans as well as many casual cricket fans. Since the rule is exclusive to the purest format of the sport, it is only applied in Test matches. That too, it cannot be applied for all cases.

As a result, the follow on rule continues to remain a mystery. However, here we will discuss the rule in greater detail and also talk about how and when it’s applied. If used properly, the follon on rule has massive advantages which gives the enforcing side a significant upper hand. However, there are also some downsides to this that we will also talk about.

What is follow on in cricket – Know about the rule

Traditional sequenceFollow-on sequence
1Team batting first1Team batting first
2Team batting second2Team batting second
3Team batting first3Team batting second
4Team batting second4Team batting first

The follow on rule can only be enforced by the team batting first in a Test match. If the team that’s chasing the target set by the side batting first has substantially fewer runs in their first innings of the match, then the side that has batted first can enforce the follow on rule which will force the opposition to take its second batting innings against immediately.

Normally, the batting sequence in a two innings match each is – first team bats, second team bats, first team bats again, second team bats again. However, with the application of the follow on rule, the sequence changes to – first team bats, second team bats, follow on rule is enforced, second team bats again, first team bats.

The follow on rule greatly increases the confidence of the side enforcing is as they can watch the opposing team bat again while still trying to chase their first innings score. The decision on whether to enforce a follow on and make the opposition team bat again or continue with the normal sequence is communicated by the first team captain to the umpire as well as the opposing captain.

By enforcing the follow on rule, the chances of a draw in a five day match are greatly reduced as the second team’s innings is completed sooner and the first team can directly skip to chasing the target. On some occasions, if the opposition’s combined totals over the two subsquent innings still doesn’t equal the first innings total of the first team, they directly win the match and will not have to bat again, thus reducing the Test match’s importance to a two day match.

Follow on rules are usually applied to the form of the sport where cricket teams get to bat two times each. Therefore, this is applicable for domestic first class cricket and during Test matches in international cricket. According to Law 14 of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Laws of Cricket, there is a minimum lead required for a team to enforce the follow-on in the match.

MCC’s Law 14.1 (for follow-on) states “In a two-innings match of five days or more, the side which bats first and leads by at least 200 runs shall have the option of requiring the other side to follow their innings”.

It remains to the discretion of the captain of the team batting first whether he wants to impose follow on as various factors such as weather conditions, time remaining in the match, fitness of his bowlers as well as strengths and weakness of the opposition all play a part.

How to calculate the follow on runs in Test cricket

It is extremely easy to calculate the follow on runs require to enforce the follow on rule in Test cricket. 200 is the magic number required by the team batting second. If the team batting second falls more than 200 runs short of the first innings target, then the team that batted first can ask the opposition to follow on. Therefore, 200 is the innings lead required to prevent follow on rule from taking place in a Test match.

Let us understand this with an example. During the first Test match between India and England held in Chennai last year, England posted a big total of 578 in 190.1 after England captain Joe Root won the toss and decided to bat first.

India, who were batting second, fell in trouble early on as Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane were dismissed quickly and the score read 73/4 at one point. It was at this point where people started contemplating whether England would implement the follow on rule as India seemed to be in a bad position.

In this case, the Indian cricket team had to score at least 378 (578-200) to avoid batting again. If India scored 378 or less than 378, Root would have the option of asking them to bat again.

Advantages of the follow on rule in cricket

Follow on rule has a massive advantage and it puts the side batting first in such a dominant position, that a win becomes extremely likely. The main goal of the follow on rule is to take a draw out of the equation and also put more pressure on the opposition as they have already failed with the bat once.

It also improves the confidence and form of the bowlers massively who are overjoyed by their success and can barely wait to get going again and dismiss the opposition batsmen once more. The onus is on them to pick up 10 wickets once more and if they can restrict them to a score below 200, they can even secure the win for their side by themselves.

The approach of enforcing the follow on also has a psychological impact as it goes to show that the side that batted first are adopting an aggressive mentality and want to win the match at any cost. It also pushes the opposition on the back foot, which is the clear intent of this rule.

Disadvantages of enforcing the follow on rule in cricket

Although the advantages of enforcing the follow on rule are quite clear, there can be some disadvantages as well. The biggest disadvantage is that bowlers are likely to get tired easily and may not have the same impact bowling in the second innings as they did in the first one.

It’s not easy to bowl around 20 overs an innings and they need to be extremely fit, both physically and mentally. In the case of a follow on, bowlers have to bowl consecutively which might result in them getting fatigued way easier. This might allow the batting team to seize momentum and really start building runs and staging a fightback.

Enforcing a follow on also means that the side enforcing it will have to bat last which might not be a great decision on most occasions considering the wear and tear of the pitches on the final few days of a Test match. Widening cracks and a deteriorating surface assist the opposition bowlers more and batting last to win a Test match can often prove to be a difficult proposition. 

One historic example of a team winning a match after being asked to follow-on is the famous 2001 India versus Australia Test at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata where the hosts turned the tables on the Aussies and came back after being asked to follow-on to register a historic victory. VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh played an important role in that monumental win.


How many runs are needed to avoid follow on rules in Test cricket?

The team batting second needs to have a deficit less than 200 runs compared to the first innings score of the team batting first in order to avoid follow on rules in Test cricket.

Who decides to enforce the follow on rule for a team?

The captain of the team batting first takes the decision of whether to enforce the follow on rule after considering various factors such as weather conditions, time left in the match, condition and fitness of the bowlers etc.



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