Follow-on: Has it become a trend of the past? | Australia vs India 2018/19
Virat Kohli raised quite a few eyebrows when he chose not to enforce the follow-on at MCG on the 3rd day of the Boxing Day Test. But looking at it statistically, was it really that shocking a decision? Since 2015 when Kohli took up the reigns as captain, Team India had the opportunity to enforce the follow-on 10 times (including MCG) and only did so on four occasions (twice against Sri Lanka and once against Afghanistan and West Indies respectively).
Quite frankly, what triggered the reaction to Kohli's decision not to enforce the follow-on had less to do with the pitch, the runs on board or the teams and had more to do with the rain forecast at Melbourne for the next 2 days. But then, in cricket, you can only control the controllable.
In the past, making teams follow on was an obvious choice for opposition captains. It gave them a chance to make the most of the opportunity when the opposition was down. But of late this has changed. Enforcing the follow-on has slowly become a trend of the past times. But what triggered this major change? There is one specific point in history where people draw the line when it comes to following on, the Test match between Australia and India at the Eden Gardens in March 2001.
India scripted history when they came back from the dead to win one of the most celebrated victories in Test cricket history. There have been three instances of a team enforcing the follow-on and going on to lose the Test match throughout the history of Test cricket, interestingly Australia have been at the losing end of all three.
1981 was the last time a team had won a match after being forced to follow-on before the Eden Gardens epic. If stats and numbers from various sources are to be believed, then in the 20 years between 1981 and 2001, teams had the opportunity to enforce the follow-on on 77 different times and enforced it on 70 occasions.
However, post the Eden Gardens epic the percentage is down to nearly 57 percent. However, more than a fear that had crept into the minds of captains and team management, not enforcing the follow-on seems more of a strategy. Salvaging a Test after following on is at-least morally considered equal to a victory. Going by stats again, 19 matches where the follow-on could have been enforced have ended in a draw since 2001. Of these 19 Test matches, 15 have come when the follow-on was enforced and four when it was not. Reason enough?
But why the Test match happens to be the turn of the pages for this strategic change is because it coincided with an era that saw a sea of changes in cricket. Today, with three forms of international cricket and the vast many leagues that have blossomed around the world, Cricket has a packed schedule across the world. As such factors, like keeping players fresh, managing their workload, and providing adequate rest have gained greater prominence. More so for the case of bowlers.
Also with the advent of T20s and the change in the mindset of players, there are fewer players around the world who are built in the Test cricket mold. The game has picked up the pace and rarely do we see drawn Test matches these days. As such the captains are happy to avoid batting last on a pitch that has seen wickets falling in quick succession or to wait until it gets worse to bat on.
This is not the first time that India and especially Virat Kohli has been criticized for not enforcing the follow-on. Remember Galle? Co-incidentally though, no other team has enforced the follow-on as many times as India since Virat Kohli became captain. Let's spare the captain some thoughts and hope for the best at MCG.