Not that any extra incentive was needed but England walloped the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday just to spice up the Ashes series a little more.
Australia, beaten in four of the last five series after 14 years of being the top dog, have seen their superiority over England taken into the back alley and given a beating. Just when they were out for the count, they summoned up a whitewash the last time England travelled Down Under.
An already tough England task became harder when Ben Stokes dim-witted behaviour was rightly punished by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). But James Anderson and Moeen Ali made it to Australia; England have the arsenal to make the Australians suffer – can they do it?
The Winners (of the Series and the Toss)
In the Gabba dressing rooms, two men are watching flies race to the bottom of a wall – 10/11 - Betfair – ahead of five Tests which will decide bragging rights for a year or more.
Australia, as hosts, are favourites although recent form doesn’t justify their place as overwhelming favourites for the series – 4/9 - Labrokes – with England – 10/3 - William Hill – suffering at the hands of India most. Doesn’t everyone?
Australia didn’t, defeated 2 – 1 in the series but their drawn series with Bangladesh punctures the air of invincibility.
Correct Score in the Series
One thing is for certain, the hosts will come flying out of the blocks. Winning the toss and putting England into bat, it’s the stuff Steve Smith dreams of.
That scenario allows the bowlers to test the tourists’ nerves in a hostile Gabba where Australia has 21 wins and 0 defeats out of the 28 tests played there; no wonder it was chosen for the opening fixture.
It’s an arbitrary cut-off but one which is infinitely better than their 21 – 4 and 19 – 4 at Melbourne and Sydney respectively. Should England write this test off, using it to eke out a draw or as much time at the crease as is possible, to hone batting for later tests in the series.
While Australia will look on a draw in the first test as disappointing, it would give England great heart. And I think, lead to a 2 – 1 series win for the tourists: 20/1 - bet365!
A double chance of a drawn series or England winning is equally appealing, from a cricket and odds sense. Currently, it’s 6/4 - William Hill for that to happen.
Steven Smith and David Warner are the men to watch for the Australians. England will be hoping not to see too much of them; Smith’s average is 59.66 and comes into the series in good form for his country. Three centuries in India, including 178 in Ranchi, the third highest score by Australian on the sub-continent.
Warner at 47.94 in the averages also enjoyed some success last summer. Bangladesh were on the receiving end, with consecutive centuries in Chittagong. Left-hander Usman Khawaja averages just short of Warner at 45.47 but being the first scorer of a century in a day/night test, as well as the second-highest score in that type of match.
England are in patchier form. Hampshire’s James Vince made his debut eighteen months ago against Sri Lanka and in his seven tests before the series, his average of just 19.27 is poor by comparison. However, it’s impossible to overlook Joe Root at 9/2 - Bet Victor to be series top scorer, and 2/1 with William Hill to lead the way for England.
Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon are the form men for the Australians. The latter with an average of 31.83 and 12 5-wicket innings, as well as a pair of 10-wicket matches, produced the best figures by an Australian bowler in Asia when he took 13/154 in Chittagong, capping off the series with 22 wickets, also an Australian record in Asia.
Hazelwood, at 25.75 and 5 5-wicket innings, is more economical and recorded his fifth best innings when he took 6/67 against India in Bengaluru. Comparisons with Glenn McGrath put pressure on the 26-year-old, but he is moving to that level of importance for the hosts.
However, Mitchell Starc at 28.35 with 7 5-wicket hauls – as well as one 10-wicket match – possesses a mix of economy and unpredictability which is sure to cause England problems. At 2/1 with William Hill, Starc is favourite to be the most prolific bowler in the series while for Australia, odds of 7/5 with bet365 are tempting.
England look no further than James Anderson. Currently ranked the best test bowler in the world by the ICC, the 35-year-old returns to the tour party as vice-captain in Ben Stokes absence.
Anderson has yet to record a five-wicket haul in Australia and is running out of opportunities to record that feat. So often England’s hero, the cricketing romantic in everyone who isn’t Australian, wants the Lancastrian to bow out in that style.
At 19/2 with Betfair to finish the best bowler in the series, Anderson may bring smiles to a few punters faces.
However, the value bet for England’s top bowler is Moeen Ali. The right arm off-spinner made a bright start to 2017 with his country, grabbing two five-wicket hauls against the South Africans. His series against the West Indies was uneventful, quiet by his standards, but is 6/1 with William Hill to lead the England averages.
Australia are favourites but there are some interesting odds in off-beat markets. The chances of a whitewash for either side is rated slim; both are 1/100 to win a test.
With the first test poised to finish in a draw unless either side suffers a batting collapse, a drawn series at 13/2 with bet365 is a tantalising prospect. It’s certainly better value than England to win the series outright.