It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this Ashes series is going to see ball dominate the bat: both sides’ bowling line-ups are full of talent, while their batting is flimsy at best, and that’s without adding in the Dukes ball and mid-September finish as factors.
England’s top order is a particular concern. Joe Denly and Rory Burns have shown no signs in their county careers – or indeed their international careers so far – of having the class to succeed in an Ashes series, so it’s somewhat of a mystery how they’ve claimed two of the top four slots in the order. And even though Jason Roy is clearly a player of sublime natural talent, his technique against the red ball has always been suspect, so much so that he has tended to bat as low as number six for Surrey. Joe Root’s move to number three is clearly the right move for the side, but he’ll be under immense pressure as captain in a home Ashes series, and is likely to be walking out to bat without having had much time to clear his head and focus on getting runs. He’s clearly England’s trump card, but odds of 2/1 for him to be their top scorer in the series look short in those circumstances.
With Jonny Bairstow currently unable to defend straight balls due to his (understandable) white-ball focus, and Moeen Ali in the sort of form that makes you wonder how he ever scored hundreds in the first place, there may be some value in England’s two big-game star men, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. While neither has a stellar test record, they are exactly the kind of characters who will relish the intensity of an Ashes battle. They won’t be batting against the new Dukes ball – or at least England will hope that’s the case! – and their chances have been underestimated in what might be an unusual Test series.
For Australia, the situation is far clearer. At his best, Steve Smith is a genuine run-machine, and he has consistently raised his game against England in the past. The World Cup should have allowed Smith to find some touch and form in foreign conditions, and without the pressure to score quickly, he can go back to accumulating runs in his irritatingly unorthodox fashion as slowly he pleases. Of course, Smith’s support of his side’s sandpaper antics means he hasn’t played test cricket for some time, but if he really gets going, he has no equals. It’s therefore logical to back him to be top overall scorer, rather than just the top Aussie batsman, as better prices are of course available.
In a similar vein, James Anderson should be backed to be the leading Ashes bowler overall rather than just England’s top man. His record in home tests is stunning, and Australians struggle badly against the moving ball. While it’s true that Anderson’s age means he’s more vulnerable to injury than in previous series, the Lancastrian is a tough customer, and with Joffra Archer waiting in the wings, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad are unlikely to play all five tests. Meanwhile Australia are uncertain about their best fast-bowling line-up even at this late stage, and seem likely to rotate all options other than Pat Cummins, who has a poor career injury record himself. Anderson can take the spoils.
There is one more recommended bet, and that’s the big one: England to win the Ashes. The media’s focus on England’s undoubted batting weaknesses has diverted attention from Australia’s equally suspect top six. David Warner’s red-ball record in England is mediocre, and England’s attack will fear nobody else bar a rejuvenated Steve Smith. Only one of the last nine Ashes series has been won by the away team – with no draws – and that was achieved by England’s truly outstanding 2011 side boasting a top four of Strauss, Cook, Trott and Pietersen. This Australian team have nowhere near that level of mental or technical class, and while England’s 2019 test side is hardly of 2011 vintage, Joe Root’s men can still take advantage of favourable home conditions to take back the urn.
Ashes Series Recommended Bets Summary:
To Win Series – England – 3pts at Evens
Top England Batsman – Ben Stokes 0.5pts at 7/1 & Jos Buttler 0.5pts at 10/1
Top Ashes Batsman – Steve Smith – 1pt at 7/2
Top Ashes Bowler – James Anderson – 1pt at 9/2