The Ashes 2015: Series Preview.

Recommendations

Joe Root Top England batsman in the Ashes series at 11/4 Coral

 Stuart Broad Top English bowler in the Ashes series at 3/1 William Hill

Steve Smith Top Australian Batsman in the Ashes Series 5/2 Coral

Mitchell Starc Top Australian bowler in the Ashes series 3/1 William Hill

Nathan Lyon Top Australian bowler in the Ashes series 11/2 William Hill

The five Test Ashes series takes place as follows:

8th-12th July 1st Test Cardiff

16th-20th July 2nd Test Lords

29th July-August 2nd 3rd Test Trent Bridge

6th-10th August 4th Test Edgbaston

20th-24th August 5th Test Kia Oval

England go into the series clear underdogs, beaten 5-0 in the Australian series at the end of 2013 and failing to win recent series against the West Indies and New Zealand. They do though have a new coach in Trevor Bayliss and displayed a markedly different more aggressive approach in the recent ODI series. However only three of that team are likely to be in first test side. England have experienced players like Cook, Root, Bell, Anderson and Broad that will stand toe to toe with the Australians but the team lacks depth elsewhere particularly in the bowling ranks. Injuries to the any of the five key players just mentioned would be difficult to overcome.

Australia on the other hand have huge experience in their ranks, so much so that “Dad’s Army” monikers have been in the press and they have enviable strength in depth particularly in seam bowling. On recent form Australia have just hammered the West Indies with ease, the highlight being Michael Clarke’s early declaration in the last Test in Jamaica. It displayed huge confidence.

A key issue for this series will be the pitches. In the English series of 2013 England the performances of the batsmen on either side were comparable, the exceptional form of Ian Bell aside. England prepared dry tracks (brand new drainage systems helped) and Graeme Swann took 26 wickets, supported by reverse swing with the old ball from the seamers. Anderson and Broad took 22 wickets each. For Australia, Ryan Harris took 24 wickets but a supporting cast of  Siddle with 17, Starc with 11 and Lyon with 9 wickets really underperformed England’s line up. Move forward a few months to the return series down under and of course Mitch Johnson was taking 37 wickets, Harris took another 22 and Lyon took 19 whilst the England team off the field was imploding.

In the summer 2013 series England had a clear advantage in spin, since when of course Swann has retired and with the best will in the world Moeen Ali or Adil Rashid are not yet test match match-winners and relative to the experience and guile of Nathan Lyon this time, it can’t be argued that England have a spin advantage to play to at all . Faced with the Australian pace battery, it would make no sense to produce quick bouncy wickets either. England might have a punchers chance on green tops but in a recent interview Lyon is clear on what he expects

“With the pace that we’ve got in our squad there is no real weak link there so I dare say they’ll be taking the speed out of the pitches,” Lyon said.

“I think that they’re going to make pretty good batting pitches and try and take the game as long as they can.

“I’m expecting good batting wickets but hopefully they’ll take a bit of spin and that may play into my hands.”

So to outright betting. It’s no surprise to see Australia 2/5 England 4/1 Draw 8/1 for the series. England might make it closer than many think playing well with a few breaks (winning an important toss for example), but realistically are a few players short of competing with Australia over five tests even with home advantage. My expectation is in the region of a 3-1 series win for Australia.

So, sub-markets

Top England batsman

A week ahead of the announcement of England’s squad for Cardiff I’ll go with a central expectation that England’s top six will be

Cook,

Lyth,

Ballance,

Bell,

Root,

Stokes.

This is a market without too much depth. Injuries notwithstanding i think we can pencil in Cook, Bell and Root for all five Tests. One of these players is clearly going to be the safest selection in this sub-market. Lyth is two games into his Test career and it will be going some to get the 400+ runs needed to win this. Ballance had technical flaws exposed by the New Zealand quicks (too deep in his crease and not moving his feet against the swinging ball), Johnson and colleagues will go at that continually and without a score in the first two tests his place will be at risk and Stokes at 6 is a candidate for one off big innings’ rather than the consistency needed to win this.

So “the big three”. So far in 2015, in the five Tests England have played Cook has 577 runs, Root 541. Cook has an extra innings in this tally, chasing a small score in Grenada when Root was not required to bat. Bell has 199 runs with a score of 143 and eight failures. Whilst Bell is too good a player not to come good through this summer for the purposes of this bet think we can reasonably narrow this down to Cook v Root.

Cook’s form has obviously substantially improved from the travails of 2013-2014 when he scored three fifties and no hundreds in each of the Ashes series. A similar performance would not win this market. I expect him to do better but he has the perennial problem of English captains in Ashes series’. e is going to be targetted by the Australian team, seen as the key wicket and has to face down whichever combination of Jhnson/Starc/Hazlewood and arris play against the new ball.

Since his return to the side, after briefly being dropped, in January 2014 Joe Root has 1318 runs at 83 with seven fifties and four hundreds. Whilst it is of course fair to say that facing this Australian bowling line up is a quantum above the challenge represented by anything he has faced in Tests since the last Ashes series he has clearly developed into a top test batsman, much better than when he scored 339 runs in the home 2013 series and batting at 5, avoiding the new ball, is probably an advantage in this market in this particular series

Joe Root Top England batsman in the Ashes series at 11/4 Coral

Top England bowler

Here again the issue is one of depth

Taking the likely line up for Cardiff

Anderson

Broad

Wood

Stokes

Ali

We can start by suggesting that fitness permitting the only certainties to play all five tests are Anderson and Broad. Wood impressed against New Zealand but has far from cemented his place and the third seamer position could well be interchangeable between several players over the course of the series (Plunkett, Footitt, Finn, Jordan to name four). Stokes, balancing the side and with the happy knack of taking the odd crucial wicket with pies, is likely to play five games but with only 3 wickets in the West Indies and 4 in two tests in the New Zealand Series his role was that of stock bowler, often not bowling until well into the innings. I am a fan of both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid but you couldn’t forecast either to be taking 20+ wickets in the series, even if either played all five which is improbable

Anderson against Broad then. Instinctively I’m with Anderson and against Broad. The prices (Anderson 9/4 Broad 100/30) suggest that is a common view. In the last two Ashes series Broad took 43 wickets (22,21) and Anderson 36 (22,14). Recently Anderson took 17 in the West Indies but only six in the New Zealand series. Broad took 10 in the Caribbean and 13 in the first part of this summer. He can bowl innocuously then hit purple patches taking wickets in clusters. In a side that will probably be second best, that is a decent sign for a potential bet. I think Anderson is the better bowler but I don’t think he is the value. Who doesn’t know he is the better bowler by now?

 Stuart Broad Top English bowler in the Ashes series at 3/1 William Hill

Top Australian Batsman

The obvious place to start here is Steve smith  In the recent West Indies series his 283 runs at an average of 141 saw him top run scorer.. He also arrives off the back of a stunning Australian summer that saw him score more than 1000 international runs, including five consecutive Test match hundreds.

Prior to the last Ashes series in England he was, frankly, a gamble for Australia. He was an all-rounder. His batting style was chaotic, technique lacking. Fast forward two years he is a fixture at number three in the batting order and Test cricket’s leading run scorer over the past year, with 1,226 runs at 102.16.

Looking at the Australian line up for other candidates, in likely batting order for the first Test

Warner

Rogers

Smith

Clarke

Voges

Watson

In the last Ashes series David Warner scored 523 runs at an average of just over 58 with no less than 5 hundreds. He scored three hundreds including a big double against India this winter. He is clearly the biggest threat to Smith in this market

Rogers has over a decade of English county experience and nearly 400 runs in each of the last two Ashes series. Even assuming he plays all five tests (Shaun Marsh will press him hard) now he is fit again after missing the West Indies tests he shouldn’t be quite prolific enough to win this market

Clarke averages 46 in England over 17 Tests. However in the past 12 months Clarke has an average of 33 and with a long history of back problems and at nearly 35 years old he might be one flare up away from handing the captaincy to Smith on a more permanent basis

Voges is a gritty middle order batsman, new to the team aged 35 and like Rogers will hold things together. Shouldn’t be challenging Smith and Warner though

Watson will bat six, but his place could be at risk from emerging all-rounder Mitch Marsh this summer. After the Kent warm-up game coach Lehmann said the selection battle Shane Watson v Mitchell Marsh for the first Test was “still too close to call” and the two would both play at Chelmsford in a “showdown”

Looking at Smith and Warner again, Smith is generally priced up around 5/2 Warner 3/1 9/2 bar these two.

Steve Smith Top Australian Batsman in the Ashes Series 5/2 Coral

Top Australian Bowler

This to my mind is the most intriguing market of the summer. There are five seamers in the Ashes touring party and all are hitting their straps just in time for the upcoming series. However, the dilemma (for us as bettors) is this — which ones will earn their place in the starting XI for the first Test in Cardiff?

The men in possession are

Johnson

Starc

Hazlewood

Lyon.

Harris and Siddle are possible inclusions too.

In the West Indies Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc were the top performers with the ball, taking 12 and 10 wickets respectively

Who is guaranteed to play 5 matches? The answer is very few of these players. Rotation and fitness will both play a part for a touring party with enviable depth

Mitch Johnson’s 37 wickets in five Tests during the 2013-2014 series bowling at 90mph plus was a key contributor to England’s failure ‘down under’. Since then the pace has dropped a little and wicket-taking has tailed off slightly. There has been some chatter that his place is at risk for Cardiff, which i would doubt, but nonetheless in a very competitive heat he is probably an opposable favourite to my mind

Ryan Harris was Australia’s leading wicket taker during the 2013 Ashes with 24 in England followed up by 22 in Australia. Harris played a part in Australia’s series with India at the end of last year and toured South Africa in March 2014 but failed to make the significant impacts that were expected of him. Recurring injuries made progress difficult for Harris and having been left out of the World Cup he was “rested” for the recent tour of the West Indies. His track record in England, particularly his ability to reverse swing the old ball makes him difficult to leave out at the outset of the series. Will his fitness hold up though?

Josh Hazlewood claimed a five-wicket haul on his Test debut in December 2014 which has set the tone for what promises to be a prosperous career in international cricket. He showed maturity in big World Cup matches and left the Caribbean as ‘Player of the Series’ and the leading wicket-taker.

Mitchell Starc could well be the best of the lot. The angle of his left-arm action and his consistent ability to fire down deliveries at over 90mph has caused batsmen trouble all over the world. England’s incapability to deal with truly quick bowling was a flaw quickly found out in 2013-14 and there is no doubt that Starc will be a major challenge this time round. Probably the one Australian pace bowler you could pencil in for all five games, fitness permitting

Nathan Lyon is an under-rated off-spinner. Looking at England’s likely line up for Cardiff it should include seven left-handers. The series should be played on dry pitches. Footmarks from the two left-armers Starc and Johnson will create rough outside the off-stump of the right handers too. Lyon is skilled at varying line and pace and conditions could be very suitable for him to take a lot of wickets this series. Almost below the radar, the attention being so much on Starc and colleagues, Lyon has impressive Test match form in the last two years

He is a better bowler than when a bit part player in the 2013 England series here, when he was left out of the first test and took 9 wickets in three games

I am going to take a two-pronged approach:

A quicker bowler, the one I am most confident will play all five games. Any of them could take 20-30 wickets, after all, for a team that should be on top.

Mitchell Starc Top Australian bowler in the Ashes series 3/1 William Hill

For value, on the likely pitches and looking at the possibilities of bowling off-spin at multiple left handers, a second bet. I took at look at the individual player markets that Coral offer. These include over/unders for total wickets for each of the major Australian bowlers as follows:

Starc 23.5 Johnson 22.5 Hazlewood 17.5 Lyon 16.5.

Lyon looks close enough in wicket expectation to me to be taking around double the price of the joint-favourites

Nathan Lyon Top Australian bowler in the Ashes series 11/2 William Hill

Recommendations

Joe Root Top England batsman in the Ashes series at 11/4 Coral

 Stuart Broad Top English bowler in the Ashes series at 3/1 William Hill

Steve Smith Top Australian Batsman in the Ashes Series 5/2 Coral

Mitchell Starc Top Australian bowler in the Ashes series 3/1 William Hill

Nathan Lyon Top Australian bowler in the Ashes series 11/2 William Hill