As I’m a prudent man that likes to err on the side of caution (i.e. I’m a bit of a neurotic worrier), I have a natural aversion to enforcing the follow on. The whole concept of the damn thing makes me nervous.
Put yourself in a captain’s shoes. Your bowlers have just put everything into bowling the opposition out in the first innings (which might have involved spending seventy odd overs in the field) and the pitch is likely get worse as the game goes on. Why on earth would you want to bat last – and thus nullify the advantage of winning the toss?
Asking the opposition to bat again, at a time when the pitch is still good, makes about as much sense as the plot of Twin Peaks. You’re basically saying to your bowlers ‘yes, I know you’re knackered, but I want you to do what you’ve just done all over again’ – to which they’d be perfectly entitled to reply ‘thanks a bunch, I’ve just played three county championship matches in as many weeks, I’m carrying several injuries, and now you want to put my body on the line again? What do you think I am, a cart horse?!’
You’re also saying to your batsman ‘fancy a pressure cooker run chase on the last day when the pitch is a minefield?’ Any batsman with half a brain would say ‘screw you skip, I’d much rather bat now, with a lead of at least 200 already on the board’.
Enforcing the follow on is basically giving the enemy a lifeline. The opportunity to give your bowlers a rest, while batting the opposition out of the game, surely makes more sense that putting yourself in a position where you could still lose.
In my humble opinion, there are only ever two circumstances in which you should think about enforcing the follow on:
A) When time is a factor. For example, is bad weather forecast, or did you score your first innings runs too slowly? If so, and you’re worried that you might not have sufficient overs to bowl the opposition out twice, then the follow on becomes more logical.
B) If conditions are favourable for bowling and your attack is still fresh i.e. if you’ve shot the opposition out for a very low score in overcast conditions (preferably no more than 130) and better weather is forecast for the next day – in which case, your batsmen would prefer to put their pads on later in the game.
However, much like the old adage about batting first when your win the toss, I reckon captains should shun the follow on 99% of the time, and the other 1% (when the circumstances above apply) they should think about enforcing it but bat again anyway.
The match between the Lions and Sri Lanka yesterday perfectly demonstrated the pitfalls of the follow on. The Lions had a first innings lead of 227 and got cocky. They asked Dilshan, Jayawardene and Co to bat again and watched them compile 448 against a tiring attack on a pitch that was still true.
Set 221 for victory, the Lions batsmen capitulated under pressure, and were dismissed for 183 – thus giving the tourists a huge fillip before the first test. The hapless Lions’ think tank, and their skipper James Hildreth, were left with enough egg on their face to make an omelette.
The only good thing to come out of the game is that the selectors have done right thing and picked Eoin Morgan ahead of Ravi Bopara in the test squad. There were all kinds of rumours on Saturday that Bopara was the man – but luckily sanity has prevailed.
I can only assume that Geoff Miller is an avid Full Toss reader and heeded our advice. If you want any help in the future Geoff, you know where to find us.