The internet forums and cricketing pundits have been brimming with debate about Steve Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on with England in disarray during the Second Ashes Test, but the call was not only in keeping with the stock Australian view of managing leads of over 200, the stats tell us that it tends to lead to a home win Down Under as well.
Five times on home soil back to 2015, the Australians have opened up a big enough first-innings lead to have the option of sending the opposition back in and, unsurprisingly, they have won the lot. Only once in that period did they enforce, racking up 583/4 declared against the West Indies in Hobart and only taking 106.3 overs to skittle the tourists twice. On that occasion, the game didn’t go into a fourth day.
The reasoning behind not enforcing is pretty strong. By batting again, you should - in theory - eliminate one result (defeat) from the reckoning, which Australia will still expect to do at the Adelaide Oval despite slipping to 53/4 at stumps on the third day which is still a precious advantage of 268 runs. You also give the bowlers time to rest and when it comes to their turn in the final innings, the pitch has a greater chance of deteriorating.
Those collective concerns are best summarised by Aussies when they look back at the Kolkata Test of 2001 when they did enforce and got cut to ribbons by India’s VVS Laxman (281) and Rahul Dravid (180) before falling to spin to lose easily. These days, they would rather grind the opposition into the dirt as happened last time between the two countries in Adelaide, when Australia chose to strengthen an even-bigger lead (398 runs) by batting on.
That only six teams in Test history have ever come back from a deficit of 200 plus on first innings to win a Test Match is an obvious statistic but the stats tell us that they judge the follow-on decisions pretty well on home soil and even with the pink ball bending around corners under lights on the third evening, the data nods towards Steve Smith getting even happier by Tuesday night.