England has already had a sensational summer of cricket – even if it did take a World Cup final for the ages to truly bring the sport to the big time – and it could become a stratospheric one if they manage to double up with an Ashes victory on home soil.
If recent history is anything to go by, this will be a truly vintage summer for English cricket. The hosts are favourites, and a large part of that comes from the huge advantage that being at home gives. The team hosting has won eight of the last nine series, went to the hosts, with only England in 2011 bucking that trend – and even then that was a vintage England side which then went onto be the world’s best test side.
So it’s understandable that the hosts are favourites, but backing them outright at evens doesn’t make much appeal.
It is true that England – like most teams in the test arena – have plenty of strong home form. But they are also far from invincible. They’ve lost ten wickets in a session 4 times since 2016, including in one mad collapse against Ireland last week. To add to that, New Zealand skittled them for 58 and West Indies managed to take them down for 77 too. Even if total collapses like them aren’t always the case, they have failed to pass 250 in 36% of their test matches.
When it comes to home turf, they are of course stronger – their last home series was a 4-1 win against India, but that score line flattered England heavily. They were 87-7 in the second innings of the first test at Edgebaston and 88-6 in the first innings of the fourth at Southampton but on both occasions were rescued by Sam Curran, and in the final Test at The Oval, they were 181-7 and had only a 40 run lead in the second innings.
On those occasions their bowlers and longer battling lineup saved them, but there hasn’t been a test series in recent times when England haven’t been in peril. This is an unsettled battling lineup too – only Joe Root remains from the top five who finished the last series in Sydney and there’s a new look top order for them too.
The positive for them is the big amount of bowling depth that they can boast. Even with Jofra Archer missing the first test thanks to a side-strain they will field a bowling attack of Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, and James Anderson. Woakes should take his World Cup form (16 wickets) forward and he also took 6-17 against Ireland when England sealed the game in the second innings too.
Broad’s brilliance needs no introduction and he helped himself to 4 wickets in the second innings, and neither does Anderson.
The problem for England is that Australia can feel confident of matching them, with the two sides almost looking like mirror images of each other. Australia have made a decent job of recovering from their ball-tampering debacle, with a fine away series win in Pakistan and a comprehensive couple of wins against Sri Lanka in-between a home series defeat to India.
The three players who took the fall on that fateful tour of South Africa are returned, with Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith all set for their first tests since then, but the Australians may not have had much choice given their struggles against the moving ball. The absence of those three meant experience for Marcus Harris and Travis Head but one of the key players of the series could be Usman Khawaja, who hasn’t cracked playing on the road yet – he averages just 25 on the road, basically half his 53 average at home. Captain Tim Paine showed discipline and resilience in South Africa when the top order was sometimes beaten by a high class bowling attack and he will surely have plenty of work to do.
Whilst their battling could be considered as fragile as England’s – a huge amount rests on Steve Smith, and they were skittled for 107 and 109 in the last two tests of their Tour of South Africa – Australia’s bowling is what will give them a fighting chance.
Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood dominated the last series with the ball and whilst those three will be used more sparingly this series, all have a lot of experience of playing in England now and all have exceled at some point. Starc’s 27 wickets in the Cricket World Cup underlined him as the best ODI bowler in the world but he’s lethal with the red ball as well, and will play a big role when re-selected by the management.
James Pattinson hasn’t played a test in over three years but he’s fit at the right time and 70 wickets in 16 tests says it all. Peter Siddle is 34 and hasn’t played a test in more than a year but he’s also taken 71 wickets at 18.17 for Essex in the County Championship and that is form that can’t be denied.
It is impossible to get away from the fact that Australia haven’t won an Ashes series in England since 2001 – or to put it simply eight of the last nine Ashes series have been won by the hosts. However, there’s no appetite to take short prices about the hosts for given their numerous collapses, not all of which have been restricted to their travels. Australia’s batting lineup is also as prone to collapses, especially against the moving ball, but their bowling attack can match England’s pound for pound and that could make this a very close contest over seven weeks. The markets look to have both teams about right in the betting and there’s no temptation to back either.
The draw didn’t make appeal at 6’s given that there hasn’t been one in the last 10 series, and the best way to get long term value out of this series could be some high flying correct scores. England have lost at least one test in four of their last five series and Australia did take two wins in 2015.
Advice – Ashes
1 pt England 3-2 Australia (7/1 Betfred)
1 pt England 3-1 Australia (7/1 Ladbrokes)
1 pt Australia 3-2 England (8/1 general)
There have been plenty of great batting moments in the Ashes, but this may well be the toughest series for batting in recent memory. The bat was experienced to dominate the recent one day World Cup far more competitive than many experienced in the recent World Cup whilst bowlers dominated both warm-up games
England’s batting lineup is in one way their great weakness – they have barely found a top order since the last series – and also their great strength, because of the tail that they have which has saved them on many an occasion, especially at home.
Try as they might, the selectors still can’t seem to find the right mix and the focus on the World Cup (one which was understandable) means that their top order will include players who must make a quick transition to test match cricket as well as some who have struggled in the test arena.
Rory Burns hasn’t passed 30 in his last six innings. Jason Roy was brilliant in the World Cup but this is a sudden transition to the test game and this will be much harder than facing Ireland. Joe Denly has been in fine form for Kent and made a best score of 69 in the test arena but he is inexperienced and a lot of the responsibility falls on Joe Root to be the anchor of England’s innings. Root is a brilliant batsman but he has top scored only once in England’s last 16 innings and hasn’t won the top series runscorer market in England’s last five series.
He may also be moved upto Number 3 which would be an even bigger challenge and as a whole, the top four can be taken on, Root included.
England’s middle order has often ended up saving them and Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler have often led the charge. Stokes is as able in the test game as he is elsewhere, and since his return to the England side has played a crucial part in their 3-0 series win against Sri Lanka and was the standout resistance in defeat against the West Indies. Stokes averages 38 since the start of 2016 and will either be protected from the new ball or have the chance to pass low targets set by those at the top of the order. 7/1 as a best price he can be top scorer appears to be fine value.
The same comments apply, by and large, to Jos Buttler. Buttler ended the West Indies tour on a high with scored of 56 and 67 in the last test but was superb against Sri Lanka, scoring 35, 38, 34, 64, 64, 16 and 26 and against India last summer he was strong as well, with a best score of 106 also supplemented by 69 in the last test.
Buttler has finished as top scorer twice and runner up twice in England’s last four series and the 9/1 that he can be top scorer is very appealing. Jonny Bairstow is the biggest threat on paper.
Advice – England Top Series Batsman
1.5 pts each/way Ben Stokes (7/1 Bet365)
1 pt each/way Jos Buttler (9/1 MarathonBet , 8/1 general)
Australia have had to do without Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Tim Paine for their last three test series, but the return of those three gives them a chance in this series. Warner must improve against the moving red ball – he has a top score of just 85 in English tests – but he has had plenty of game-time at least to play recently and will be a threat of sorts.
The biggest threat however, is Steve Smith. The Australian captain can play all conditions and actually was not just the top scorer for the Australians when they last visited but he was the overall top scorer too with 508 runs including scoring a double-century at Lord’s and 143 at The Oval.
He looks a standout contender here but he’s very short and there could be each/way places up for grabs and a couple of lower order batsmen caught the eye. Tim Paine took third in this market when Australia were down under – and Cameron Bancroft, the winner there, was only 18 runs ahead – and the wicketkeeper is surely going to get a lot more playing time in this series if the 2015 series is anything to go by. He’s proven himself against hostile fast bowling attacks and this could be a low scoring market.
Matthew Wade will play Number 6 and has scored 50’s in seven of his last nine outings – with that amount of protection from the new ball he could give a tremendous run for his money if he carries his form over.
Advice – Top Australian Series Batsman
1 pt each/way Tim Paine (33/1 Bet365)
1 pt each/way Matthew Wade (33/1 SportingBet, 20’s general)
Overall Top Series Batsman – Advice
2 pts win Steven Smith (7/2 general)
1 pt each/way Ben Stokes (14/1 Betfred)
1 pt each/way Jos Buttler (20/1 MarathonBet, 16/1 general)
This is where things get tasty. The Aussies bring a bowling attack that can match England pound or pound; the key is rotation to keep their three superstars – Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Josh Hazelwood. Only one of them has been selected for the first test, and that is Pat Cummins, who can take the beating in the overall market. Cummins took 23 wickets down under and whilst he wasn’t as successful in 2015 but he gets a start on Starc and Hazlewood and his other form is just incredible. Cummins took 22 wickets in South Africa – the best form comparison in tests for this – and 28 wickets combined in the subsequent series against India and Sri Lanka. With an average of 58 wickets at an average of 18.77 since the start of 2018, he will take the beating even with James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle for company.
Advice – Top Australia Bowler
4 pts Pat Cummins (9/4 Hills)
Joe Root is blessed with bowling options in what’s an extremely tight heat. The three to concentrate on in English conditions are Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, and James Anderson. Broad and Anderson have won the last three series played on quick pitches – Jack Leach and Moeen Ali dominated in Sri Lanka and then the West Indies – and of those two Anderson does have two wins in this market, but at 2/1 he is very short.
Anderson’s calf injury is a worry despite the fact he starts the first test and Stuart Broad, who was the top wicket-taker in the 2013/14 and 2015 series, could be the value. Chris Woakes, who has 60 wickets in 15 Tests at an average of 21.85 in England, is the big threat and worth backing for top innings wicket-taker honours when he’s
Advice – Top England Bowler
1 pt Stuart Broad (4/1 general)
Advice – Top Series Bowler
2 pts Pat Cummins (4/1 SkyBet)
1 pt Stuart Broad (8/1 Betfred)