Understanding the Follow On in Cricket

Photo by Ubedulla Midde: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-man-playing-cricket-13470171/

Cricket is a complex and nuanced sport, with many different rules and strategies that can have a significant impact on the game. One of these rules is the follow on, which can alter the course of a match and determine the ultimate outcome. The follow on in cricket is usually enforced when one team is very much on top, and doesn’t occur to single innings matches.

We explain the concept of the follow on rule and how it works.

The Basics of the Follow-On Rule

Before diving into the nuances of the follow on, it’s critical to understand what it is and how it works. In cricket, the follow-on is an optional rule that allows the team that bats first in a test match to enforce a penalty on the team that bats second.

Specifically, if the team that bats first scores a high number of runs in their innings and the team that bats second fails to get close to that total, the team that batted first can choose to enforce the follow on. When this happens, the team that batted second is required to bat again immediately, without any rest or break between innings.

The follow on in test cricket requires a team to have a 200-run lead in order to enforce it.

The laws of the game explain the follow on in some detail in clause 14.1, 14.1.1, and 14.1.2

14.1 Lead on first innings

14.1.1 In a two-innings match of 5 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.

14.1.2 The same option shall be available in two-innings matches of shorter duration with the minimum leads as follows:

  • 150 runs in a match of 3 or 4 days;
  • 100 runs in a 2-day match;
  • 75 runs in a 1-day match.

Definition and Purpose

The central purpose of the follow-on rule is to prevent test matches from dragging on indefinitely. Without this rule, a team that wins the toss and bats first could potentially score a massive total but then need to bat again to increase the lead, even if they would rather be trying to take the 20 wickets they need to win the match.

Picture this scenario. Team A scores 400 runs, and then Team B in response only manages 180. There is only a day and a half left in the test match. Team A would likely force them to follow on, as this will help them to get to the 20 wickets they need in total before the time runs out. It helps to prevent a draw.

By permitting the follow on, we can ensure that test matches are more efficient.

When Can a Team Enforce the Follow-On?

As mentioned earlier, the follow-on is an optional rule that can be imposed by the team that bats first if certain conditions are met. Specifically, if the team that bats first scores 200 or more runs than the team that bats second, they can choose to enforce the follow-on. For example, if the first team scores 500 runs, and the second team only manages to get 300 runs, the follow-on rule can be imposed.

If the match is a two-innings match of 3 or 4 days, then the lead must be 150 runs for the rule to apply.

The Role of the Captain in Deciding to Enforce the Follow-On

One of the critical decisions surrounding the follow-on is whether or not to enforce it. Ultimately, this decision lies with the team’s captain, who must weigh the risks and benefits of the follow-on carefully. In some cases, a captain may choose not to impose the follow on, even if the conditions have been met. This can occur if the pitch conditions are deteriorating, or if the team’s bowlers are fatigued. It is possible that he wants to preserve the morale of the bowlers and also possible that the bowlers are simply tired and could do with a rest while the batters amass a bigger total.

Historical Context of the Follow-On

The follow-on rule has been a part of cricket since the earliest days of the sport. Originally, there was no limit to the number of innings a team could bat in a test match, which often resulted in drawn-out and tedious games. The follow-on rule was introduced in the late nineteenth century as a way of speeding up the game and making it more exciting. Since then, the follow-on has become an essential part of test match cricket.

Origins of the Follow-On Rule

The follow-on was first introduced in the 1700s, but it has changed a number of times. As we know the law, it has been in place since the 1980s. In 1835, it was added to cricket’s laws, and made compulsory after a deficit of 100 runs, but the law was eventually tweaked to give the captain more choice.

The follow-on rule has evolved over the years as cricket has developed. Today, the rule has a specific set of criteria that need to be met before it can be imposed, and captains have more freedom in deciding whether or not to enforce it. Additionally, since the advent of limited-overs cricket, the follow-on has become less common, as it is not used in shorter forms of the game.

Notable Instances of the Follow-On in Cricket History

Over the years, there have been many memorable instances of the follow-on rule being enforced, which have had significant consequences for the outcome of the game. One particularly legendary follow-on comeback occurred in the 2001 Kolkata Test between India and Australia.

Strategies and Tactics Surrounding the Follow-On

One of the most interesting aspects of the follow-on is the strategic and tactical considerations that come into play. Captains must carefully weigh the risks and benefits of enforcing the follow-on, as it can have significant consequences for the outcome of the game.

Advantages of Enforcing the Follow-On

The primary advantage of enforcing the follow-on is that it puts the team that batted second under significant pressure. They must come back out to bat immediately, without any break or rest, and face the bowling attack while also dealing with the psychological impact of having been forced to follow-on.

This pressure can often result in the second team making mistakes and losing wickets, giving the first team a significant advantage.

Potential Risks and Drawbacks

While the follow-on can be a powerful tool for the team that batted first, it’s not without its risks. If the team that batted second are able to weather the initial burst of pressure and start to score runs, they can potentially turn the tables on the team that batted first. Additionally, if the first team’s bowlers are fatigued, enforcing the follow-on can put strain on them, leading to injuries or poor performances.

The team enforcing the follow-on is really expected to win, so it can be very embarrassing if they don’t. This is so rare in test cricket that we can quickly list every example of follow-on comebacks below:

Victory after a follow on:

WinnerMarginOppositionGroundMatch DateScorecard
England10 runsv AustraliaSydney14 Dec 1894Test # 42
England18 runsv AustraliaLeeds16 Jul 1981Test # 905
India171 runsv AustraliaEden Gardens11 Mar 2001Test # 1535
New Zealand1 runv EnglandWellington24 Feb 2023Test # 2494

The 1981 Ashes victory after following on is one of the most famous examples of a team winning from this position.


Understanding the follow-on rule is essential for anyone who wants to appreciate the intricacies and complexities of test match cricket or two-innings matches fully. From its origins in the late 18th century to its current incarnation, the follow-on has played a vital role in shaping the game we know and love today. Whether you’re a casual fan or a devoted follower of the sport, the follow-on is an essential part of cricket’s rich tapestry.

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