If the question is “How many years on average between sides following on and winning in test cricket?”

ENG have done it twice, most famously in Botham’s Ashes

England’s decision to enforce the follow-on is a tactic less used in modern-day Test Cricket with the penchant for sides to “bat the opposition out of the game”. However, the mammoth 583-8 declared posted by England was always likely to be too much for Pakistan, given both the favourable bowling conditions and the formidable names England can boast in their pace bowling ranks. So, with the tourists dismissed for 273, a whopping 310 runs in arrears, it is not such a huge surprise that Pakistan are batting again today.

Enforce, or not enforce, that is the question

The follow on is always a vexed question for a captain and creates a healthy debate amongst cricket followers. At its heart is the question of whether to forgo the opportunity to bowl last on an aging track in favour of hastening the game’s conclusion and potentially batting just once. Whilst a draw would secure England the series, Joe Root, it seems had little doubt, perhaps with the prospect of further rain interruptions looming and the further incentive of World Test Championship points.

Against the odds

If Pakistan are to win, they will join a very select few in being successful having been made to bat again. Only three teams out of 286 in the history of Test Cricket have won after following-on, a percentage of just 1.05%: England against Australia twice, once in 1894 and again in that in the famous 1981 Headingly test, driven on by Ian Botham’s cavalier batting and Bob Willis’s trance like destruction of the disbelieving tourists. On both occasions, the margin of victory was tight. Just 10 runs at the SCG in 1894 and 18 runs at Headingly

India are the other successful side, turning the tables on Australia at Kolkata in 2001. This time the victory margin was greater at 171 runs. Having been rolled for just 171 in response to Australia’s 445, India posted a gargantuan 657/7 declared, thanks to a career defining 281 from VVS Laxman and 180 from ‘The Wall’, Rahul Dravid. Australian fans of a nervous disposition would be well advised not look too closely at their team’s bowling figures. Shane Warne laboured with 1/152, before Harbijan Singh took full advantage of the wearing pitch with 6/73 to see India home.

When looking at times when the follow-on was ​not​ enforced, examples of teams losing from this position are also extremely rare – twice, one of which was the game between South Africa and England in 2000 infamous for match-fixing led by Hansie Cronje. Therefore, it clearly shows that to lose a game having been 200 runs ahead after both first innings’ requires a calamity of the highest order.

When also considering that only 13 times has a team lost having declared during a match, it all points away from Pakistan being successful at the Rose Bowl.

Modern phenomenon

Of the 388 times in Test cricket when enforcing the follow-on has been possible, there have been 102 examples of sides neglecting this in favour of batting again to try and limit the chances of them being on the wrong end of an historic defeat. In fact, 78 of these instances have occurred this century, with many teams being spooked by that historic Indian success at Eden Gardens and thus deciding to rule out any chance of themselves being added to the exclusive list.

Generally, the follow-on is enforced 73.71% of the time – 286 times in 388 possible situations – but of the 177 instances since 2000 when the follow-on has been an option, it has been opted for just 99 times – a drop to 55.93%. Of sides to have been in this position of dominance this century, they have come out as the winners in 82.82% of games.

Looking at England’s recent preferences, of the 29 times this century they have had the option of enforcing the follow-on they have done so in 20 of those, failing to win only three times having asked their opponents to bat again, the last of which was in New Zealand in 2013.

Do you believe in Miracles?

History is very much on England’s side, and if Pakistan avoid defeat it will be the first time this century they have not lost after being ask to bat again.

Hot Chocolate may have believed in miracles and it will take one to save Pakistan here. That said, there is always the famous English weather to consider, so all may not be yet lost for Pakistan.

With thanks to Jack Groom from TCA for statistical analysis.