Few decisions provoke more controversy and debate in Test cricket than the option to force the follow-on. I still don’t understand how the exact follow-on figure is reached (is it half or two-thirds of the opposition’s innings?), but a captain faces a number of competing factors: are his bowlers too tired? What’s the weather and conditions like? How will the decision affect the rest of the series?
There’s also the emotional effect at play: when the follow-on is available, one captain must wait for the other’s command; it’s a hugely humilitaing exercise that leaves no doubt as to who is calling the shots. Now, Graeme Smith might yet rescue South Africa from the depths it sunk to in the last three days, but have look a look at the end of this video, when his country’s first innings had finally ended. He stands on the balcony, looks over to Vaughan, and then hears the message: “You didn’t make enough, mate. Have another try.” See at 8:55.