STAR PREVIEW Weds: THE ASHES

Unpredictability and uncertainty are two of the things that make sport great, and it may well be that this Ashes series – which takes place after an 816-day gap between the last series – is one of the most uncertain we’ve had in recent years.

La Nina’s inclement weather has robbed England of any meaningful preparation –Chris Silverwood’s men have had just 109 overs of warm-up play since arriving, all of which has come against fellow squad members or the England Lions. Meanwhile Australia haven’t played a test in nine months, with several key members transitioning from their T20 World Cup triumph back to the red ball game.

There’s doubts over the opening test – which starts at midnight tonight – being completed thanks to rain, whilst the location of the fifth test, if it’s played at all, is still unknown at the time of writing. To add to that, COVID and the Omicron variant are overshadowing proceedings, although we very much hope that we get four tests at least. Who said cricket was a simple game?

We also have some of the world’s finest cricketers – including four of the top ranked test batsmen, three of the top ranked test bowlers and the best all-rounder in the world according to popular opinion – taking each other on in a series that could provide conditions to suit both hosts and tourists, which is something to whet the sporting appetite. And then there’s the urn, for good measure.

Form Guide:

🇦🇺 Australia
Last 5 Test Series:
December 2020 – January 2021: Lost – Australia 1 India 2
December 2019 – January 2020: Won – Australia 3 New Zealand 0
November 2019 – December 2019: Won – Australia 2 Pakistan 0
August 2019 – September 2019: Drew – England 2 Australia 2
January 2019 – February 2019: Won – Australia 2 Sri Lanka 0

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England
Last 5 Test Series:
August 2021 – September 2021: Lost – England 1 India 2 (series incomplete)
June 2021: Lost – England 0 New Zealand 1
February 2021 – March 2021: Lost – India 3 England 1
January 2021: Won – Sri Lanka 0 England 2
August 2020: Won – England 1 Pakistan 0

This is a tale of two extremes. Australia haven’t played a test match since January and have played one four-Test series since January 2020; England are about to play in their fifth series of the calendar year having played six Tests in Sri Lanka and India and six at home against New Zealand and India again.

England have won just four of those twelve matches and went down 3-1 in India, although they have faced the two best test sides in the world. Nevertheless, their away record and away form is a worry – and their dire record down under (bar that famous 2011 Triumph) does not make for kind reading. However, India have set a template for denying Australia at home and conditions could be more favourable this time around.

Preparation:

🇦🇺 Australia

With Australia having not played a test since January, the Sheffield Shield is the source of red-ball preparation for some leading lights of Australian cricket.

Queenslanders Usman Khawaja (460 runs in 8 innings at 65.71) and Marnus Labuschagne (455 runs in nine innings at 65.00) are leading the run scoring charts with Travis Head, who will take the number 5 spot tonight, sixth after scoring 394 runs for South Australia in eight innings with an average of 49.25.

Cameron Green, who will also take to the field tonight, is ninth on the list with 364 runs (from 10 innings at an average of 38.67).

The rest of the squad mainly comes from the T20 World Cup, where David Warner was the second top overall scorer with 289 runs, Josh Hazelwood took 11 wickets and Australia also won the trophy for good measure.

Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood, Mitchell Starc, David Warner and Steve Smith have not played a first-class fixture since last summer.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England

England have played a huge amount of test cricket this year – tonight will be their thirteenth test match of 2021 – but their specific preparation time here has been absolutely taken apart by La Nina. England’s intra-squad Ashes warm-up match in Brisbane was abandoned without a ball being bowled on the final day because of rain.

Only 29 overs were bowled in the three-day game, and the first two of their Brisbane four-day game, when Ben Stokes scored 42 but there were plenty of failures. None of the England side have faced an Australian delivery.

SERIES VERDICT:

Home advantage is precious in Ashes series – no side has won away since England in 2010-11, and that with an all-time great side – so it’s understandable that Australia are favourites here. However, this does not have the feel of a normal Ashes series and 1/3 makes no appeal about a side who haven’t played a test since January.

A washout at The Gabba would be damaging to their chances, and England should fancy their chances of a strong performance in the day/night test in Adelaide + along with any other venue where inclement weather could help the Kookaburra ball swing more than it traditionally does.

The quality at newly appointed captain Pat Cummins’ disposal is outstanding – nobody can deny that – but their batting is hugely reliant upon their three leading batsmen of Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and David Warner. In Australia’s three series since the 2019 Ashes (where Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne were the 1-2), two of Labuschagne, Smith and Warner have finished in the top three runscoring positions.

All three could continue delivering but bar that the Australian batting line-up looks vulnerable, and the bowling unit is sure to face severe pressure. Pat Cummins, the first fast bowler to lead Australia since the 1950’s, will face additional pressure whilst Mitchell Starc, a key member of the famed trio, has had an underwhelming 12 months and only took 11 wickets in four matches at an average of 40.72 against India, and then had a below par T20 Cup, where he took nine wickets at 27.55 and conceded 60 runs off his four overs in the final.

One could say England have a similar issue with batting depth – Joe Root has scored nearly a thousand runs more than Rory Burns, who is England’s second highest runscorer in the last year – but one thing they do have to their advantage is a lot of fast bowling depth.

England have included Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, and Mark Wood in the squad for tonight, with James Anderson nursing a calf strain but potentially set to return for the second test in Adelaide. Wood’s speed, Robinson’s excellent technique and aggression, Woakes’ fine away record (including 10 wickets) and Broad’s experience gives England many options on paper.

Jack Leach will have a huge role to play, but he did take 28 wickets against Sri Lanka and India in the winter and can play a big hand in proceedings.

With one test set to take place in English conditions and two day/night tests, this may be the most favourable set of visiting conditions England have had for a title defence and it would be no surprise if they could land a blow or two here. England have been given two and three test starts on Star’s series handicap, and both appeal especially with the threat of the weather taking a result out of play in the opener.

The correct score market could provide big value here. The 2-2 draw appeals in the right circumstances, whilst a 2-1 and 3-1 victory for Australia could provide value whilst also seeing a handicap bet prosper – especially if a flat pitch at Melbourne was to make a draw more likely there.

Batting
(Top three runscorers in series from left to right in brackets)

🇦🇺 Australia:

December 2020 – January 2021: India at home (426 Marnus Labuschagne; 313 Steve Smith; 204 Tim Paine)

December 2019 – January 2020: New Zealand at home (549 Marnus Labuschagne; 297 David Warner; 214 Steve Smith)

November 2019 – January 2020: Pakistan at home (335 David Warner; 185 Marnus Labuschagne; 101 Joe Burns)

2019: England away (774 Steve Smith; 353 Marnus Labuschagne; 337 Matthew Wade)

The last two Ashes series have been dominated by Steve Smith, who scored an astonishing 774 runs in England when the two last met. However, the stats point to one man – Marnus Labuschagne. Initially given his big break thanks to a new concussion protocol, he’s never looked back, averaging over 60 and scoring a barely believable 975 runs against New Zealand and India in home series.

Labuschagne should fear none of England’s bowlers despite their skill, and starting at 4 should protect him a bit from the new ball, especially if David Warner and Marcus Harris can make decent starts.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England:

August 2021 – September 2021: India at home (564 Joe Root; 184 Jonny Bairstow; 183 Rory Burns)

June 2021: New Zealand at home (238 Rory Burns; 108 Dominic Sibley; 97 Joe Root)

February 2021: India away (368 Joe Root; 203 Ben Stokes; 153 Ollie Pope)

January 2021: Sri Lanka away (426 Joe Root; 139 Jonny Bairstow; 131 Jos Buttler)

August 2020: Pakistan at home (320 Zak Crawley; 265 Jos Buttler; 143 Chris Woakes)

In the last 12 months Joe Root has scored 1,455 runs in a golden vein of form, and it will take a mighty effort to unseat him. He’s not scored a century in Australia but did manage 378 runs on the last tour and is a better player now.

Rory Burns is next best over the last 12 months with 479 runs despite his struggles but opening could leave him vulnerable to the best of the Australian attack and it could pay to look elsewhere for a back-up option.

Ben Stokes did tune up nicely in the last warm-up game and we know of his qualities, but he’s been short of game time and may not get it quickly in favourable conditions. Dawid Malan was England’s top runscorer when England last toured (he just edged out Root) and he looked in good touch against India, with 106 runs from 3 innings at an average of 35. His technique looked in fine order than – arguably only Root moved as well with the bat – and that can aid him again here.

Ollie Pope, who will be protected from the new ball by his position and who has a fine record at the The Oval, is a potential threat and one worth looking at for those who want chunkier prices, although Root and Malan have shown more consistency this year,

Bowling
(Top three wicket takers in series from left to right in brackets)

🇦🇺 Australia:

December 2020 – January 2021: India at home: India (21 Pat Cummins; 17 Josh Hazelwood; 11 Mitchell Starc)

December 2019 – January 2020: New Zealand at home: New Zealand (20 Nathan Lyon; 15 Mitchell Starc; 12 Pat Cummins)

November 2019 – December 2019: Pakistan (14 Mitchell Starc; 10 Josh Hazelwood; 8 Pat Cummins)

August 2019 – September 2019: England (29 Pat Cummins; 20 Josh Hazelwood; 20 Nathan Lyon)

January 2019 – February 2019: Sri Lanka (14 Pat Cummins; 12 Mitchell Starc; 6 Jhye Richardson)

The performance of the ‘big four’ – Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon – will go a long way to deciding this series. If all four fire, then England will need to find a new level to their batting to get something out of the tour.

However, Starc has struggled this year and was outpointed by India, whilst Lyon averaged 55 during that test series (his worst average since 2016-17) and hasn’t cut much ice since. Both are better than those showings suggest but Australia could be in serious trouble if neither fire and that would open this market up to captain Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood. Hazelwood hasn’t taken top wicket honours in any of Australia’s last five test series but he’s finished runner up three times, will get the new ball, and doesn’t have the pressure of captaincy, making him the most attractive option.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England:

August 2021 – September 2021: India at home: India (21 Ollie Robinson; 15 James Anderson; 8 Craig Overton)

June 2021: New Zealand (7 Ollie Robinson; 6 Stuart Broad; 6 Mark Wood)

February 2021: India (18 Jack Leach; 8 James Anderson; 8 Moeen Ali)

January 2021: Sri Lanka (12 Dominic Bess; 10 Jack Leach; 6 James Anderson)

August 2020: Pakistan (13 Stuart Broad; 11 James Anderson; 6 Chris Woakes)

This is a very competitive betting heat but Ollie Robinson has really begun to fulfil his potential this year with 28 wickets during this summer, including 21 against India as England’s other quicks struggled at times). This is his Ashes debut but conditions could be more helpful to him than for a normal newcomer, and his high release point could be a major asset – Cricviz shows that those with a high release average 27.1 with the new ball compared to 49.7 for the low release, a major difference.

Robinson’s fitness and youth could see him play all five tests, something which we know Jimmy Anderson won’t do, whilst Mark Wood may need to be managed and the same could be true of Stuart Broad. If Robinson adapts, then he could take the beating and 3/1 is more than fair about his chances.

Series Specials:

The traders have done a fine job with picking out some specials, and all are worth looking at. The one of most interest is 10/1 about England to win the series and Joe Root to be the top England runscorer – Root’s performances appear to be linked to England’s fortunes and if England were to pull of a shock, he will surely be at the forefront.

First Test:

This looks a minefield given the amount of rain that’s forecast. Thundery showers are predicted throughout the opening day, with more than a 50 per cent chance of rain for the first three days before a clear Saturday. The draw could still be fair value at 15/8 but that’s helpful for our series outcomes, so we’ll look at a couple of bowlers in the Man of the Match market.

Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins look obvious picks, whilst it’s impossible to resist 20/1 about Ollie Robinson. If you want to cover both bases, look to Ben Stokes.

The Ashes 2021/2022
Brisbane (The Gabba), Adelaide (Oval), Melbourne (MCG), Sydney (SCG), TBD
8th December 2021 – 18th January 2022
First test begins: Midnight UK, tonight
Live on BT Sport HD and BT Sport App, and TMS on BBC Sounds

Test Schedule:
December 8-12: Brisbane
December 16-20: Adelaide (day/night Test)
December 25-29: Melbourne
January 4-8, 2022: Sydney
January 14-18, 2022 TBA

HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD
(Last 10 Ashes Tests)
England won by 135 runs (The Oval)
Australia won by 185 runs (Manchester)
England won by 1 wicket (Leeds)
Draw (Lord’s)
Australia won by 251 runs (Birmingham)
Australia won by an innings & 123 runs (Sydney)
Draw (Melbourne)
Australia won by an innings and 41 runs (Perth)
Australia won by 120 runs (Adelaide)
Australia won by 10 wickets (Brisbane)

Australia lead 6-2 in last 10 Ashes tests

RECOMMENDED BETS (Series Outcomes)
BACK England + 1.5 on Test Handicap 2 pts at 11/10 with starsports.bet
BACK England + 2.5 on Test Handicap 2 pts at 8/13 with starsports.bet

RECOMMENDED BETS (Series Correct Score)
BACK Draw 2-2 1 pt at 15/2 with starsports.bet
BACK Australia 2-1 1 pt at 9/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Australia 3-1 1 pt at 9/2 with starsports.bet

RECOMMENDED BETS (Batting)
BACK Marnus Labuschagne Top Australia Series Run Scorer 3 pts at 2/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Marnus Labuschagne Top Overall Series Run Scorer 2 pts at 3/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Joe Root Top England Series Run Scorer 4 pts at 5/4 with starsports.bet
BACK Dawid Malan Top England Series Run Scorer 2 pts at 6/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Dawid Malan Top Overall Series Run Scorer 1.5 pts at 16/1 with starsports.bet

RECOMMENDED BETS (Bowling)
BACK Josh Hazelwood Top Australia Series Wicket Taker 3 pts at 11/4 with starsports.bet
BACK Ollie Robinson Top England Series Wicket Taker 3 pts at 3/1 with starsports.bet

RECOMMENDED BETS (Series Specials)
BACK England To Win Series and Joe Root Top Runscorer 1 pt at 10/1 with starsports.bet

RECOMMENDED BETS (First Test)
BACK Josh Hazelwood Man Of The Match 1 pt at 12/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Pat Cummins Man Of The Match 1 pt at 12/1 with starsports.bet
BACK Ollie Robinson Man Of The Match 1 pt at 20/1 with starsports.bet


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Author: Adrian Gray