As the England players were quick to point out yesterday they won by 247 runs so what’s all the fuss about? The answer is that they might easily not have done and that, had they enforced the follow on, they might have completed the win on Monday. To older cricket watchers the conservatism of many modern captains is puzzling. Back in the day it was rare not to enforce the follow on, the only occasions when you wouldn’t being those where your opponents had made a score that, outside the context of the match was a large total, (400 say in reply to 600), and your bowlers needed a rest. To bat again when you had a large lead and had not spent a long time bowling the opposition out (New Zealand’s’ first innings at Headingley lasted 43 overs) was considered contrary to the spirit of cricket. Nearly forty years ago Geoff Boycott, captaining Yorkshire, incurred much opprobrium for batting again against Oxford University and opting for batting practice rather than going for a win. At least the students had the satisfaction of getting him out twice for singles figures. Viv Richard’s fury at not being asked to bat again in a County Championship game was hardly defused when the opposing captain said he just wanted to tire them out before the following day’s Nat West Trophy game against the same opponents. As Viv told him (forcefully), the game would be avenged for this disrespectful attitude.
When it comes to enforcing the follow on, or not, New Road has witnessed two of the more bizarre incidents, both against Northamptonshire. In 1979, after a lot of play had been lost to rain, Norman Gifford made an adventurous declaration, 148 runs behind, and was asked to bat again. Gifford had forgotten that, owing to the amount of play lost, the lead required to enforce the follow on was 100 runs rather than 150. Gifford, a rather prickly man despite his avuncular image, virtually accused his opposite number Jim Watts of cheating. Watts drily informed him that it wasn’t his job to tell the opposing captain the rules.
Nine years later it was Phil Neale and Geoff Cook who found themselves at loggerheads. Neale, wishing to enforce the follow on, looked up to the Northants balcony as he walked off the field, caught Cook’s eye and made a batting motion. Minutes later he almost choked on his tea as he saw Northants taking the field and ordered his team out to avoid a fait accompli. As Cook and Neale argued, with Cook claiming he hadn’t seen Neale’s hand signal, 22 players milled around in the outfield. The umpires had to phone Lords for a ruling and half a dozen overs were lost.
By all means bat the Aussies out of the game in the final Test of the Ashes are still at stake but please let’s see more of the follow on. It does add colour to the game!.