Last time down under of course England lost 5-0 and expectations are low this time round, especially because of the absence of Ben Stokes, an “X Factor” match winner

Test matches are as follows:

23rd Nov 1st Test Brisbane
3rd Dec 2nd Test Adelaide (Day/Night)
14th Dec 3rd Test Perth
26th Dec 4th Test Melbourne
4th Jan 5th Test Sydney

Last time down under of course England lost 5-0 and expectations are low this time round, especially because of the absence of Ben Stokes, an “X Factor” match winner.

There is especially pessimism about England’s batting described by one cricket correspondent as the “worst to ever leave these shores!”Betting markets reflect this as it is 13/2 bar Cook and Root in the Top England batsman market

However even though they are strong favourites, it feels strange to suddenly vault Australia into an unbeatable force considering the team’s batting instability and a mish-mash of results in recent years. Consider the Top Australia batsman market where there are question marks beyond the front two, Warner and Smith

It is a similar story in the fast bowling ranks where clearly Australia have a formidable trio in Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins but England have Anderson and Broad. Beyond the front line stars though, depth is an issue for both sides.

Odds for the first Test are Australia 4/5, England 9/4, the Draw 9/2 and for the series Australia 2/5 and England 7/2, with the draw (and England retaining the Ashes) up to 8/1. The head of the correct score market sees Australia 3-1 and 4-1 as 5/1 and 13/2 favorites respectively.

I think it will be far closer than that, the inevitable incidence of injuries to key players is going to be crucial and Australia just aren’t that superior a side to England and both have similar weaknesses. I returned to look at 2-2 at 7/1 several times.

Onto some of the value in sub-markets

England Batsman

England obviously have two top class performers (and as mentioned above they are strong favourites here) Root and Cook.

There has to be an opportunity to take on the front two for value here and the issue here surrounds England’s weaknesses around Cook and Root in the top order. England have been 50/3 or worse 11 times in last 12months in 14 tests, twice each against South Africa and the West Indies at home last sumer and no less than seven times last winter in Bangladesh and India.

Partnering Cook England have cycled through Hameed, Jennings and now onto Stoneman over that period and have now used at 12 openers since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.

Beyond that the number three position has been a continual problem and frequently numbers 6-8 have rescued totals, and a batting order with Bairstow at 7 and Moeen Ali at 8 has been an enviable strength, and both will have to move up one in the order with Stokes missing

Clearly Stoneman, Vince and/or Ballance and Malan in top five have a lot to prove and Cook and Root have to be favourites in this market.

Root averages 53.76 in 60 Tests, and has 13-hundreds and 32 fifties in 110 innings. His quality is unquestionable yet what we know the arket knows and he’s 6/4. At 5/2 Cook might be slightly past his best against the best fast bowling. Since 2013 he has “only” scored a test century every 6.3 matches compared to every 3.78 before 2014.

I do think that Bairstow at 13/2 (batting six, avoiding the new ball barrage and able to counter-attack) is interesting value. Moeen Ali at 16-1+ has to be considered too. The 25-1 at Betfred is too big.

England bowler

Who said this about who recently?

“At 35, with almost five back-to-back Test matches, is he going to be as influential? We’d like to say hopefully but realistically? Unlikely. Hopefully he might get a couple of wickets where he is going to be influential.”

That was Graham Gooch’s assessment of James Anderson and his chances of success this winter. It seems a fair question whether England’s record Test wicket-taker can replicate his home form in Australia but Anderson took 24 wickets at 26 in 2010/11 in Australia and his struggles away from home have also been exaggerated as an average of 29.2 since 2010 outside of England shows. After a couple of injury-disrupted years, Anderson also got through all seven summer Tests unscathed.

Of course, if he can stay fit, it remains to be seen whether he can repeat his heroics of seven years ago and again make the necessary adjustments to succeed with the Kookaburra ball on bouncier pitches with less movement through the air and off the seam.

Stuart Broad was part of England’s triumph in 2010/11 but was involved in just two Tests last time, an injury in the second ruling him out of the remainder of the series. His height should be an advantage on the harder. Even if the new ball pair do find their best form this winter, they will be reliant on Chris Woakes and whoever is selected ( I would expect Overton, Curran and Ball to platoon here across a series) as the fourth seamer to provide dependable back-up.

With Anderson and Broad at skinny prices (both 9/4 or shorter) in this market I think Woakes is an interesting price at 7/2.Already described this tour as “back to his absolute best” he is established as third seamer and should particularly suit the well thatched drop in pitch and day/night pink ball game at Adelaide. I had a passing look at Moeen Ali at 6-1, will play all five matches if fit and be the stock bowler even if conditions don’t immediately set up to suit

Australia batting

All eyes here on Smith and Warner, followed by Usman Khawaja at three (Smith and Warner 7/4and Khawaja 5/1, 7/1 bar the top three in this market)

Smith has scored at a world class of 59.6 after 56 Tests including 20-hundreds and 21 fifties in 104 innings and could well be a very solid favourite here.

Beyond the front three Australia have issues. Matt Renshaw entered the team over a year ago and he is battling to hold onto his position after a worrying form slump. At six the alternatives are Western Australia batsman Shaun Marsh who could be offered another lifeline to resurrect his stuttering Test career after a strong start to the domestic season and Glenn Maxwell the one day specialist who has onlyplayed seven tests

Peter Handscomb will likely bat 5 and has 740 runs in his first ten tests. He appeals most of the relative outsiders at 10-1

Australia bowler

Incredibly the much vaunted first choice trio have never played a Test together due to continual injury woes. Mitchell Starc is brilliant, of course and bang in form. He will be looking at England’s top five and trying to contain his excitement. He’s taken four wickets or more 16 times in 36 tests. At 5/4 though prices already assume he’ll have his great series.

Alongside him Josh Hazlewood has featured in 31 Tests so far with 118 wickets. A probing swing bowler, he’ll be benefitting from the dramas created by Starc at the other end and at 9/4 is better value given there will be technical deficiencies to go at in the England batting

Backing them up Pat Cummins (9/2) is an outright quick, not the guile of the other two but likely to be a real handful at Adelaide and Perth in particular. First choice spinner Nathan Lyon (11/2) remains in the side.

These three have to be short odds not to get through five tests in a short time span unscathed though. After them Australia’s pace stocks have taken a battering with James Pattinson ruled out of the series and Nathan Coulter-Nile suffering a new back injury. Jackson Bird is likely to back the front three up.

Recommendations

Top England batsman Jonny Bairstow 13/2 William Hill, Betfred
Top England batsman Moeen Ali 25/1 Betfred (16/1 generally)
Top England bowler Chris Woakes 7/2 Coral,Betfred
Top Australia Batsman Peter Handscomb 10/1 William Hill,Betfred
Top Australia Bowler Josh Hazlewood 9/4 William Hill, Skybet
Series Correct Score 2-2 at 7-1 William Hill, Bet365