The Ashes – First Test Preview

After their sensational – but arguably fortunate – win in the recent 50-over World Cup England are 4/5 with BetVictor to regain the Ashes which starts at Edgbaston on Thursday.

A last word on the World Cup. Why with the scores tied after the Super Over could we not have had a second Super Over which cannot involve those involved in the first? Thus, Jofra Archer or Trent Boult couldn’t have bowled, and Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jimmy Neesham and Martin Guptill couldn’t have batted.

A penalty shoot-out is not decided until a winner is known – they don’t take five penalties and then – if the sides are level – award the tie to the team who have had more shots or corners in 90 minutes.  It made for wonderful viewing, but it was the wrong way to decide what had been an epic tournament.

It is fair to say that I am not alone in having concerns about the fragility of the England top order. England have scored 400 just once in their last 33 Test innings. England coach Trevor Bayliss summed it up succinctly when asked if their lack of runs in the front three was a concern – “you don’t have to be Einstein to work that one out.”

Rory Burns, who has scored 30 just once in his last 10 Test innings, is badly out of form and Joe Denly is not a Test player. I know Jos Buttler is a wonderful one-day player, but I wonder whether he has the technique to score heavily against the pace attack of the Baggy Greens. I’m not convinced.

There is an awful lot expected – and required – of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow – despite his embarrassing pair against Ireland last week – and Ben Stokes. All must return to the lofty heights they hit in the World Cup if England are to regain the Ashes. Root should bat three, but he is the skipper and wants to bat four. That is the quandary.

Neither side have had an ideal preparation. England were bowled out for 85 by Ireland on the first morning of last week’s Lord’s Test while Australia had more questions than answers after their Probables v Possibles game at Southampton last week when 17 wickets were taken on the opening day.

England do have a great recent record in Birmingham – unbeaten since 2008 in Test cricket. Joe Root referred to the Edgbaston crowd as the 12th Man after their defeat of the West Indies in 2017 and they beat India by 31 runs in a low-scoring affair 12 months ago – even though Virat Kohli scored 200 runs in the game.

David Warner’s second innings 50 – on a poor Southampton pitch – highlighted his quality and the Baggy Greens’ opener is too big at 9/4 with BetVictor to be the Aussies top scorer in the Series – indeed he looks too big at 5/1 with BetVictor to be the Series top run-scorer. Warner finished just one run behind Rohit Sharma in the race to be the World Cup top-scorer and he has a real appetite to score big runs.

BetVictor have a market on the Ashes top-scorer handicap with all 12 players in the market quoted at 17/2. Former skipper Steve Smith is the only batsman on scratch with Joe Root having a 10-run start and the other ten having a bigger start up to Tim Paine on +200.

The two that interest me are Usman Khawaja (+100) and Ben Stokes (+125) although I would want confirmation that the former has recovered from the hamstring injury he suffered in the ODI loss to South Africa at the beginning of July. If he is passed fit for Birmingham, he is due to have a fitness test on Monday afternoon, he will take some prizing out.

Both sides look better with ball than bat at present and I wouldn’t be too optimistic had I bought a ticket for Monday’s fifth and final day. The widely held expectation was that Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – so effective in the 4-0 Aussie win Down Under in 2017/18 – would be the fulcrum of the Australian pace attack but Starc was out-bowled by James Pattinson and Peter Siddle at the Rose Bowl and he could miss out in Birmingham.

Aussie skipper Tim Paine – who should not be in the Tourists side – coach Justin Langer and the rest of the selection team have big decisions to make between now and Thursday although, with potentially 25 days of Test cricket in seven weeks, it is likely that both teams will rotate their pace bowling options between now and the middle of September.

Jofra Archer is 3/1 at BetVictor to be the top England Series bowler and he has the X Factor – raw pace – that could decide the destination of the prized urn. Archer – last seen twerking with the best of them in Barbados – has had more of an Ian Botham preparation for the Ashes than many at Lords would have wished for. He is a rare talent, but this will be the most intense period of cricket he has been involved in during his career to date. How will his form and fitness cope?

It pains me to say it but Australia at 6/4 with BetVictor look the value to win the Series and they are the same price to win the opening Test with the hosts 19/20 and the draw at 21/4.

The World Cup came home in July – I’m not convinced the Ashes will be coming home in September!

Charlie’s first test pick

1st Test bet: Australia to win at 6/4

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