It’s time to bury the Kolkata follow-on myth

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    The theory that the 2001 Kolkata Test influences Australian captains regarding the follow-on is baseless and makes no sense.

    It is time to abandon the concept altogether.

    Let me explain.

    Steve Waugh’s first Test series as skipper was in the Caribbean in March 1999.

    He had a dream start with the Windies shot out for 51 in the last innings of the first Test at Port-of-Spain to hand Australia a thumping 312-run win.

    Waugh then won the toss in the second Test at Kingston and chose to bat.

    Australia was bowled out for 256 with the hosts amassing 431 in reply.

    When the tourists were rolled for 177 in their second innings the West Indies romped to a ten-wicket win.

    The hosts won the third Test and Australia the fourth leaving the series all square at two-all.

    To this day, Waugh rues the decision he made when he won the toss in the second Test.

    In hindsight, he believed had he inserted the Windies on the back of being all out for 51 in the fourth innings of the opening Test he could have broken their spirit with another solid bowling display, and as such, recorded a series win.

    That regret shaped the remainder of his Test captaincy.

    At Kolkata in 2001, in his 23rd match as skipper, he had his first opportunity to enforce the follow-on.

    He did not hesitate.

    After being swept aside inside three days in the opening Test at Mumbai, India was dismissed in its first innings in the second Test at Kolkata for 171, handing the tourists a whopping 274-run lead.

    Mark and Steve Waugh

    What ensued was a cricketing freak of nature with VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batting the entire fourth day to set-up a once-in-a-generation victory.

    I was there commentating and I have never seen a day’s play like it and I doubt I will again.

    The teams convened a few days later at Chennai with India recording a two-wicket win to take the series 2-1 thus denying Australia their first series win on Indian soil since 1970.

    If anyone was to be scarred by such a happening it would have been Steve Waugh.

    He wasn’t.

    Four Tests and five months later at The Oval, Waugh had another chance to enforce the follow-on.

    He did and Australia won by an innings and 25 runs.

    Before his captaincy reign ended he had another six opportunities to enforce the follow-on and he did it each time and each time his side won.

    So, the man who led Australia to that famous loss at Kolkata enforced the follow-on on each of the seven occasions he had the chance after that fateful Test and won every time.

    Hardly a case of a captain or team being gun shy.

    Waugh’s successor, Ricky Ponting, played in all those matches so it is doubtful that he was mentally scarred by the time he ascended to the job.

    Around 18 months before the end of Waugh’s captaincy something did begin to change in Australian cricket, however, and it would shape future captains’ outlook on the follow-on.

    I was in the UAE in 2002 covering the Test series between Pakistan and Australia for the ABC.

    Leading into the second Test of the series – the first had been played in Colombo – I was watching the Australian team train at the Sharjah International Cricket Stadium.

    The team’s official scorer and assistant manager, Mike Walsh was standing behind the bowlers with a note book.

    I had not seen it before and after training asked what it was he was doing.

    I was told that at the behest of team physio and conditioning coach, Errol Alcott, he was keeping a tally on the number of deliveries each bowler was sending down.

    Each of the quicks – Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Andy Bichel – were on a set schedule.

    When they had bowled their individual allotment, as decreed by Alcott, they were told to stop bowling.

    It was the start of a regime that would only grow in subsequent years.

    In fact, as fast bowlers continued to breakdown – and Australia has had more in the rehab ward than any other Test nation in the last 15 years – the stringent monitoring of the quicks has escalated.

    In turn, it has become from and centre in the minds of successive captains in that time.

    With the exception of opportunities to enforce the follow-on in Asia – and they have been very rare – where teams are not keen on batting last, almost every decision has been predicated on bowler workload.

    Steve Smith said as much when quizzed about his choice not to ask England to follow-on at Adelaide.

    Steve Smith reacts sad Ashes 2nd Test.

    “We know it’s a long summer”, he commented post-game, “And I think these bowlers we’ve got are very valuable, and just giving those guys a little bit of a rest always make me confident they can come back and do the business they need to do.”

    Rightly or wrongly, the health and ongoing fitness of Australia’s fast bowlers is the primary driver behind the decision as to whether or not the follow-on will be enforced.

    Hence, the mental scar that was supposedly left after Australia’s demise at Eden Gardens 16 years ago is a furphy.

    It is time it was put to bed – permanently.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (46)

    • December 7th 2017 @ 6:38am
      Baz said | December 7th 2017 @ 6:38am | ! Report

      Fair point 🙂 i thought it had to do with bowlers load maybe if it was tge last test in the series they go for it

      • December 7th 2017 @ 4:49pm
        Redsback said | December 7th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

        Whatever the case, it didn’t make sense j. This case. They had bowled only 70-odd overs. If they had gone back to bowl, the game could well have been over a day earlier. Surely that would be the best option – to give them an extra break. Simply don’t understand it.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 6:50am
      Not so super said | December 7th 2017 @ 6:50am | ! Report

      What happens if England score 400? We let marsh, handscombe and usman bowl because the quicks have had their allotment ?

      • Roar Guru

        December 7th 2017 @ 8:30am
        Chris Kettlewell said | December 7th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

        The restriction on bowling is about training, not in a match. The bowlers will bowl what they need to in the match.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:00am
      Ironmonger said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      I think in the next comment mad by Smith in that interview he said something like ” …and I wanted to make sure the England bowlers worked as hard as possible in this Test too”. Which I felt was just as good a reason, if not more so, given the age of the two opening bowlers. I think both captains misread the extent of the pink ball that impact…Root over-estimating it when sending Aus into bat on a cold first day where the ball and pitched played flat and straight, and then Smith under estimated how much Anderson and co. would get the ball to sing in the evening after the weather warmed up. Thought it was a great test for all these reasons…

      • Roar Guru

        December 7th 2017 @ 10:39am
        Chris Kettlewell said | December 7th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        Even though England have the extra bowler, their main bowlers are working just as hard. In fact, Anderson bowled 53 overs in this test, compared to 39.2 for Starc, 36 for Hazlewood and Cummins. Obviously, he’s not pushing his body as hard, mostly averaging only just over 130km/h, he bowled something like a 10 over spell in that night session, (22 overs in a 58 over innings means there’s not a lot of the innings he isn’t bowling) but that’s still a lot of bowling. There was a lot of talk before the series about the workload for the Aussie bowlers with only four bowlers, and clearly the selectors are worried about what might happen if faced with another WACA road again this year, so they’ve brought Mitch Marsh into the squad, but Lyon’s been a big part of fixing that.

        I must admit that, while I heard so many people talk up Overton’s debut, the fact that they only bowled him for 2 overs in the Aussie second innings was interesting. It suggests that Root doesn’t really trust his bowling much and sees him as being little more than someone to relieve the load of the others, rather than a key member of the bowling attack in his own right.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 1:23pm
          Pope Paul VII said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

          The Overtone had batted for 105 mins so was probably a bit knackered. Also he is the least experienced bowler, so after one bad over in a short session it was fair enough to take him off.

          I like his style. He shows some fight.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 7th 2017 @ 7:04am
      DJ DJ said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      Smiths decision was the right one. He knew he only needed 100 runs in the second dig and England wouldn’t chase down 330+. Had he led by only 100 then yes enforce the follow on.

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 7:16am
        Glenn Mitchell said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

        A team has to lead by 200-plus to be able to enforce on at Test level.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:23am
      Taurangaboy said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:23am | ! Report

      Normally I’d not enforce a follow on. But for a new pink ball at night I would , unless my bowlers were exhausted. Batting in these conditions is the modern version of the sticky wicket.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 7:24am
      Duncan Smith said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      A lesson that individual events take their meaning from a larger context. Good article.

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