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)

England v South Africa Betting Preview

After the seemingly interminable build-up, it’s a relief that the World Cup is finally due to get underway with the hosts England (1/2) taking on South Africa (7/4). Given England’s win ratio over the last 2-3 years, those odds are about right, so let’s get stuck into some of the more interesting markets available.

Conditions

There’s minimal chance of rain, but it will be overcast. Those conditions may help fast bowlers, especially with a 10:30am start, and with captains wary of that early movement the winner of the toss is likeliest to chase. Indeed, teams fielding first have won six of the last eight completed ODIs at The Oval.

Having said that, the square in Kennington has slowed down over the last few years – gone is the fast bowlers’ paradise of old – and with the ground’s relatively sizeable boundaries, spinners will still play a key role, especially in the second innings.


Bowlers

There isn’t often much movement in the air or off the pitch at The Oval, even with overcast conditions, and “hit the deck” fast bowlers tend to fare best, followed by genuine spinners. Liam Plunkett’s record at the South London ground is outstanding, with ten wickets in his last six matches there at a strike rate of just 29.4, and given Mark Wood’s fitness scare he is likely to play. Odds of 4/1 to be England’s top bowler are fair, but not good enough to rate a recommended bet. If England bowl first, Chris Woakes would fancy his chances of taking early scalps; if England bowl second, Adil Rashid can create havoc on a slowing pitch with South Africa certain to be chasing a hefty total.

With Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir both trading generally at around 11/4, there looks little value in picking the top South African bowler, as those two are consistently the Proteas’ main wicket-takers.

Batsmen

South Africa’s bowling strength is up front, with Rabada and the rapid Lungi Ngidi set to unleash a barrage with the new ball. Neither Jason Roy nor Jonny Bairstow will be shy in taking them on, and there could be fireworks in the first ten overs. If the Proteas’ pacemen are successful, England’s middle order could face a fair number of overs, and that brings skipper EOIN MORGAN and test captain JOE ROOT into considerations for top batsman.

Both Morgan and Root love the Oval, topping England’s averages at the venue. Root has the class to see off the new ball, if indeed he is exposed to it, and quite simply the Yorkshireman is a run-machine. In ODIs in England in the last three years he has made 1,624 runs in 34 innings (47.8 per innings), figures that compare well with openers Bairstow (49.7) and Roy (46.2). Morgan’s runs per innings figure is lower (40.1), but the steely Dubliner will be totally determined to stamp his authority on the tournament, and his average strike rate of 101 compares favourably with the slightly more reserved 93 for Root.

Markets are expecting Roy and Bairstow to dominate, but with Rabada and Ngidi to see off – as well as the chance of having to bat at 10:30am – there is value in backing both England’s numbers three and four, particularly at the best available prices.

For South Africa, QUINTON DE KOCK is the 100/30 favourite to be top scorer, but rightly so. The keeper has scored 46.6 runs per innings in the last three years. Skipper Faf Du Plessis can boast 49.45 in comparison, but he has a very mediocre record in England, with just 138 runs scored in four ODI innings plus a string of test failures to his name. Hashim Amla is a true legend of the game, and has to be respected, but his recent form is patchier than his beard, and De Kock’s chances look even better than his odds imply.

Specials

The combination of an early start (after an evening of rain in London) and first-day nerves means there is an element of uncertainty to proceedings that doesn’t help with more exotic bets, or predictions at longer odds. There can be great bets in these markets, but it may be better to keep the powder dry for this game.

 

Recommended Bet Summary

Eoin Morgan – Top England Batsman – 0.5pts (11/2 Skybet, 5/1 General)

Joe Root – Top England Batsman – 0.5pts (7/2 Skybet, 3/1 General)

Quinton De Kock – Top SA Batsman – 1pt (100/30 General)

Cricket World Cup 2019 Betting Preview

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.

Recommended Bet:

New Zealand 0.5 pts e/w (10/1, 2×1/2)

 

Top Batsman

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.

Recommended Bets:

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)

 

Top Bowler

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.

Recommended Bets:

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)