Since the beginning of Test Cricket in 1877, the 10 Test playing Nations have played 2259 Tests till date. Out of these, there have been only three occasions when a side, which was given follow on, came back to beat its opponents. Ironically, in all these 3 Tests, the losing team was Australia.
The first of such Test result was witnessed during the 1894-95 series between Australia & England in Sydney. I recollect the article I read and I’m giving the gist of the match here. Australia, having won the toss, amassed 586 runs in their first innings with their Captain George Giffen leading from the front with a century (161) and Sydney Gregory with a double ton (201). In reply England scored 325 with A.Ward and J.Briggs scoring 75 and 57 respectively. The Australian captain, topped his century with a five-wicket haul to restrict the England team to 325. Following on, England team scored 437. Though only 176 runs were needed for the Australian team to win the Test, they were bowled out by Robert Peel, who claimed 6 wickets for 67 runs and won the test by just 10 runs. Incidentally, this test match was decided on the sixth day.
The second instance was between England vs Australia at Headingley in 1981. The Australian team was lead by K.J.Hughes and England by J.M.Brearley. After winning the toss, Australia scored 401 for 9 and declared. Opener John Dyson was the top scorer with 102, followed by Captain Huges 89 and G N Yallop 85. For England, Ian Botham captured 6 wickets for 95 runs. In reply, England could score only just 174 as the Australian pace trio, Dennis Lillee, T.M.Alderman and Lawson accounting for the 10 wickets. The top scorer for England was Ian Botham, 50. As is the norm, Australia asked England to follow on and their start was disastrous losing Graham Gooch early and then the next 3 for just 41 runs which later became 7/135. Ian Botham was holding on to the fort and he found a reliable partner in G.R.Dilley to put up a century partnership to bail out England to post a score of 356. While Ian Botham remained unbeaten on 149, Dilley’s contribution was 56. The wrecker in chief was Alderman again, who took 6/135 followed by Lilee 3/94. Though the target of 129 was set by England and was easily achievable, Bob Willis had different ideas. His fierce bowling accounted for 8 Australian wickets for just 43 runs to script an unbelievable win for England by 18 runs. It was an unprecedented and splendid all round display by Ian Botham who not only took 6 wickets in the first innings but also scored an invaluable 149 in their second innings, which deservedly earned him the Man of the Match award.
Ironically, even the Third time the Australian team had to face such a loss, this time against India, which was lead by the dynamic and bold Captain, Sourav Ganguly. This happened during the 2001 series second Test at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. This series turned out to be prestigious for Steve Waugh & Co, who considered this series as “Final Frontier” to carry on his remarkable Test winning streak of 16. His sixteenth win was at Bombay where they convincingly won the first Test and were on cloud nine. After winning the toss, Australia batting first made a healthy score of 445 with captain Steve Waugh standing tall with a century (110) to lead his team from the front, ably supported by Mathew Hayden (97), Justin Langer (58) and the tall Gillespe with 46. While Harbhajan Singh accounted for 7 wickets, including the first hat trick by an Indian bowler, Zaheer Khan took 2/89. In reply our team could muster only just 171, top scorer being the ever reliable V.V.S.Laxman. Glen McGrath took 4/18 rest shared by Jason Gillespe, Kasprowicz and Shane Warne. Following on, Indian openers put up a partnership of 52 before the first wicket fell. Then came the golden moment of this Test where the think tank chose to promote Laxman to third position. He scripted history along with Rahul Dravid to put up a mammoth 5th wicket partnership of 376 to send
the Australian for leather hunting on day 4 of this Test. While Laxman posted the highest score of 281, Dravid pitched in with a patient 180 to take the second innings score to 657/7 declared and a target of 384 for the visitors on the final day. Harbhajan Singh, who accounted for 6/73 placed the final nail on the coffin to script a historical win in Indian Cricket. VVS Laxman made this series his own and till date is known for the superlative 281 runs he scored. Incidently, the margin of victory was the same as first innings score of 171. It was the finest hour for Indian Cricket, which instilled confidence to the team to beat the best team in the world. This confidence was carried over to Chennai, where India won the Test and the series 2-1. No Australian Captain since then has enforced follow on to its opponents till now.
The Game of Cricket is indeed a game of uncertainty even in the longest format.