England v Ireland Test Preview

The first Test Match of the Summer is here, and for World Champions England – their official title now, in the manner of a Lord – it’s time for batsmen to put away the switch hit and for bowlers to re-learn the skill of hitting the top of off stump. This won’t be an easy transition, especially for those who played a large part in the World Cup campaign, not least because whatever the main protagonists say to the media, the rush of four successive knock-out 50-over games in front of baying crowds will make the sedate blazers-and-champagne atmosphere seem rather low-key.

That’s particularly true because this game isn’t really a ‘normal’ test match at all, but a fairly standard County Championship Division One game masquerading as a fully-fledged test. Firstly, it’s against Ireland, whose line-up is made up largely by county stalwarts. Secondly, it’s scheduled over four days, just like county cricket, rather than five. And thirdly, England’s line-up looks far more like a strong county XI than a genuine international side; the strongest county sides of recent times (let’s say Yorkshire or Middlesex in 2015 or 2016) would give them a very good game.

As such, it makes far more sense from a betting perspective to view this as a glorified, televised county match that happens to have international status. That’s no offence to Ireland – it’s more that England’s team (and mental state) for this game is so weak.

In those circumstances, there is clearly one stand-out bet before we even look at the detail: Tim Murtagh to be top Ireland bowler (1st innings) at 100/30. To put it simply, Murtagh is a genius, even in the twilight of his magnificent career. He has the ball on a string, can swing it both ways at will, and has outfoxed the players in this England line-up for years. Just earlier this summer, he was far too good for some of the same players he’ll face today, including Joe Root. On top of that, he’s playing at his home ground, and he will bowl whenever he wants – rather than when the captain wants! – from his favoured Nursery End.

The joker in the pack with this theory is the weather, which is going to be – in the words of Arabella Weir’s Fast Show weathergirl – “scorchio” for the first two days at least. These are not the kind of conditions where Murtagh is seen at his best, but frankly they’re not the kind of conditions where any bowler is seen at their best, and he’s still Ireland’s best bowler available at generous odds.

Yet these hot and sunny conditions mean there could be some value around elsewhere. This is a four-day test due to be played on a slow wicket (as Lord’s is these days) in initially superb batting conditions, with the chance of thunderstorms on days three and four. To my mind, those circumstances scream “draw”, but that outcome is available at 8/1. With England’s attack missing Jimmy Anderson, to my judgment there’s more than a 12.5% chance of this result, and if there is any rain around it could become a good back-to-lay position too. This does mean we are relying on an Ireland batsman to bed in and make a substantial innings – something they have struggled with on the international scene in general – but there are some capable players in their line-up and we’ll take our chances on the draw, to small stakes, with a back-to-lay advised if possible during the game.

Jonny Bairstow was already advised on Twitter as Top England Batsman (1st Innings) at a ludicrous 13/2, but now those prices are gone, there doesn’t look to be much juice in this market. At the top of England’s order, both Roy and Burns have been notoriously slow starters in red-ball cricket, and as such it might be worth a very small and speculative bet on Ireland to have the higher opening partnership.

Already Advised (Twitter):

Jonny Bairstow – Top England Bat (1st Innings) – 1pt at 13/2 (Skybet)
Tim Murtagh – Top Ireland Bowler (1st Innings) – 2pts at 100/30 (Bet365)

Recommended Bets:

Draw – Match Result – 0.5pts at 8/1 (general)
Ireland – Highest Opening Partnership – 0.25pts at 4/1 (Betway & others)

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