The ICC have, as ever, managed to excel themselves in altering the format of the World Cup to make it even longer, even duller, and even more predictable than any previous tournament. All ten teams will play each other before the top four sides in the standings advance to the knockout semi-finals. This means two factors need to be taken into account for betting purposes: firstly, that there are highly likely to be dead-rubber games at the tail end of the round-robin phase for the very best teams; secondly, that even teams which don’t progress will have played nine of the maximum eleven possible matches.
The Outright Market
England are rightly strong favourites, a sentence which feels unsettling to type as an Englishman, more used to World Cup diasters than domination. The tournament format means that as short as they are, trading at about 2/1 currently, this still represents a good bet for trading purposes. If you have spare cash in an exchange account, or free bets with a traditional bookie, it’s well worth piling on. England’s batting is by far the best ever seen in limited-overs cricket; indeed it’s so good that they are nigh-on guaranteed to coast through to the semi-finals. By that stage, it’s almost inevitable they’ll be shorter than their current price, so trading out becomes possible. I can’t recommend a hefty wager on an outright tournament win at the prices, because anything can and will happen in the high-pressure environment of a knockout World Cup game, and England’s aggressive approach can very occasionally backfire spectacularly.
There is no point in backing India at 3/1 ante-post. Yes, an England v India final is the likeliest climax to events – and as such there could be some value in their price from a trading perspective, I suppose – but while their progression is very likely, it’s not totally guaranteed. India have historically struggled in England in all formats of the game, and it feels foolish to back them for overall glory before seeing how they handle conditions this time around.
The best bet at this point could be NEW ZEALAND at a tempting 10/1 (and bigger on the exchanges as I type). They’re a perennially underrated one-day team, yet they have a balanced side containing some world-class performers. If Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor both play to their best, and their excellent fast-bowling attack spearheaded by Trent Boult consistently gets early wickets, they have every chance of going far. With the potentially key advantage of playing England (who should already be qualified) last in the round-robin stage, a semi-final place is highly possible, and they are worth a small interest as a result.
New Zealand 0.5 pts e/w (10/1, 2×1/2)
England have revolutionised one-day international batting since the last World Cup in 2015, and given there’s also been a major format change, looking at historical trends won’t be too helpful here. As such, there should be some value around, with bettors simply looking at the “best” players for their wagers, rather than taking these big changes into account. That’s the theory, anyway!
I’m looking for players who bat in the top three, and I’m looking almost exclusively at their average runs per innings (rather than their actual average, which is affected by not outs), although of course a high strike-rate is a bonus. Consistency is also important; this is a nine, ten or eleven match ‘series’, in effect, and a proven history of reliable runs is a major advantage, rather than relying on a hot streak. Finally, it’s not important that they play for one of the favourites; nine versus ten/eleven matches is not all that statistically significant when we are dealing with numbers in the high hundreds.
Clearly Virat Kohli merits his position at the head of the market. His statistics are awesome. In the last two years, he’s scored 3,088 runs in 48 innings at an average of 85.77; for comparison, the biggest run-scorer in England’s much-vaunted line-up is Joe Root with 1,834 runs from 44 innings. The man is a phenomenon, and such is his thirst for the big occasion, that it’s arguable 8/1 isn’t actually bad value. But in a market with so many contenders, a price that skinny just isn’t for me, because it takes away any each-way option.
But happily there are three batsmen who (largely) fit my criteria whose chances look to have been underrated.
South Africa’s QUINTON DE KOCK is the most obvious. He’s a best price of just 20/1 (and 18/1 generally), but this looks like a big price given his record: he averages 49.22 runs per innings in the last two years, and has proven that he can handle English conditions, averaging 41 here in his six matches so far. As he’s the squad’s only wicketkeeper, he’s almost certain to play every one of South Africa’s matches, and as an opener he will get every opportunity to score. As a bonus, De Kock’s terrific IPL form means he should arrive in England in confident mood, and as a result he rates a good bet.
Next up is 25-year-old SHAI HOPE, who boasts 1,887 runs in his last 40 innings. Chris Gayle may steal the headlines, but Shai is the West Indies’ best hope of posting big scores: he will be firing on all cylinders in England, having posted scores of 170, 109, 30, 87 and 74 in the warm-up matches versus Bangladesh and Ireland, and a career average of 51.06 proves his class. In fact, having Gayle at the other end could take some of the pressure off his young shoulders. Remarkably, he’s 33/1, a price largely based on the West Indies’ chances rather than Hope’s hopes of scoring the most tournament runs. That’s a crazy price based on all available information, and he must be backed.
Last but not least is the master of the middle overs, ROSS TAYLOR, whose consistent brilliance for New Zealand shows no sign of abating. In just the last two years, he has racked up 12 half-centuries and 3 centuries, averaging 56.39 per each of his 31 innings. Taylor is likely to come in at number four in the Black Caps’ order, but given their struggle to find a top class opening partnership, he should still face a fair number of overs, and his batting position is reflected in his price. Available at 40/1, he’s worth a small wager, just in case the tournament isn’t the orgy of runs from the big names that everyone expects, especially as Taylor should have his eye in from a spell with Middlesex. It would be extraordinary if the super-reliable Taylor failed to deliver for his team, and with New Zealand having a decent chance of progressing, the Black Caps man merits backing.
Quinton De Kock 1pt e/w (18/1, 4×1/4)
Shai Hope 1pt e/w (33/1, 4×1/4)
Ross Taylor 0.5pts e/w (40/1, 4×1/4)
This is all about finding strike-bowlers who are likely to play all (or very nearly all) their team’s matches: either need opening quick bowlers who also bowl at the death, when batsmen have to take the biggest risks; or attacking spinners used by their captains to take wickets in the middle overs via aggressive fields.
There are only sixteen bowlers with 20 plus ODI wickets in the last two years who have a strike rate of a wicket under every 30 balls. Of those sixteen, only a few are likely to start all their team’s games, such is their importance to their side’s way of playing, and these are the candidates for a wager. In particular, two bowler’s odds are mystifyingly long given their very clear claims.
Firstly, India’s main spinner KULDEEP YADAV can be backed at 25/1 despite his incredible record of 87 wickets in his last 42 matches at a strike rate of just 26.4. India have probably the best attack in the tournament, so wickets may well be shared around, but Yadav’s record is there for all to see, and he habitually bowls his full ten overs for Virat Kohli’s men. He should have no problem recovering from taking a bit of a pasting in his last IPL match given his strong character, and 25/1 is simply the wrong price for a player of his proven class.
Secondly, New Zealand’s main seamer TRENT BOULT is begging to be backed at 20/1. He will take the new ball and bowl at the death, and his left-arm action will present a challenge to any lower-order batsman in particular. Boult’s record compares favourably with any other fast bowler in this format: he has 60 wickets in his last 31 games at a strike rate of 28.1, and given New Zealand may need a final game win to go through, he could well play all nine of their qualifying matches. He has a significantly better set of statistics than Jaspit Bumrah, yet the Indian is 14/1, and the New Zealander 20/1. Remember, this is all about wickets, and Boult nearly always takes them.
England may not be good at stopping other sides from scoring, but they are good at taking wickets, partially because any team batting second against the Three Lions will be chasing a formidable total. That brings their two main men into focus. Adil Rashid has revelled in his role as a wicket-taking spinner under Eoin Morgan’s enlightened captaincy: he has taken an impressive 71 wickets in his last 40 innings at a strike rate of 29.9, but he’s as short as 16/1 as a result. A better bet is CHRIS WOAKES, the first fast-bowler on England’s teamsheet because he is both their best opening, and best death, bowler. His recent injury seems to have removed him from considerations, yet his strike rate of 28.3 is terrific in any context, let alone as the main strike bowler for the tournament favourites. Odds of 25/1 are big enough to justify a small bet despite the threat of potential squad rotation by England in the course of the round-robin stage.
Kuldeep Yadav 1.5pts e/w (25/1, 4×1/4)
Trent Boult 1pt e/w (20/1, 4×1/4)
Chris Woakes 0.5pts e/w (25/1, 4×1/4)