There is nothing in cricket more special than The Ashes. It is a Test series that can define a player’s career, create legends and often produces dramatic encounters.
In addition, this Ashes series marks the start of the new World Test Championship where nine of the Test-playing countries will be competing for points over the next four years for the right to compete in the final in England in 2021.
Remember Bodyline, Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’, Hutton’s 364, Laker’s 19 wickets in a game, Botham’s Ashes, that great Australian side that would ultimately be taken down in 2005 in one of the most incredible series of all time. And then, more recently Stuart’s Broad’s 8-15 at Trent Bridge. An Ashes series always delivers those magic moments.
2019 will add to that history, but what is in it for the punter? James Buttler analyses the 2019 Ashes and puts up the best series bets…
The Ashes Preview
JOE ROOT’S ENGLAND STILL SEARCHING FOR CONSISTENCY
England enjoyed a good home summer of 2018. After losing the 1st Test against Pakistan they levelled the two-match series before claiming an impressive 4-1 series win against India. During the winter a comprehensive 3-0 series win over Sri Lanka before the New Year was followed with a 2-1 away defeat to West Indies.
Joe Root has been captain since taking over from Alastair Cook in February 2017 and it has been a mixed bag. The team are 4th in the ICC Test rankings but have problems with the top order, which often sees them reduced to three wickets down cheaply. A string middle-order and a well-balanced bowling attack often takes them to success, but there are still weaknesses to be exploited.
England had concentrated their focus on white ball cricket in preparation for their route to trophy success at the recent home Cricket World Cup. Beating Australia in the semi-final before taking the final against New Zealand on boundary count-back sees English cricket on a high. But white-ball cricket and red ball Test matches are so far apart these days they may as well be classed as different sports.
Add in a lackluster performance in last week’s Lord’s Test against Ireland, despite the win, there are issues with England’s five-day side. The Ashes 2019 is a pivotal series in Joe Root’s tenure as captain.
AUSTRALIA WELCOME BACK SANDPAPER TRIO
Australia are on the upward curve after a horrible 18 months blighted by Sandpapergate and the subsequent tears and political fallout. Justin Langer replaced Darren Lehmann as head coach and Tim Paine was handed the hospital pass of the Test captaincy at a difficult time.
Australia lost that four-match series in South Africa 3-1 during February and March 2018, with the last three Tests producing crushing margins of defeat. A 1-0 two-match series to Pakistan in the UAE followed and then Christmas 2018 saw them lose a series at home against India for the first time ever.
The wheels were partially welded back on to the Rolls Royce that is usually the Australian juggernaut with a 2-0 home series win over Sri Lanka. This was however the same Sri Lankan side that folded equally easily against England.
But with David Warner, Steven Smith and Cameron Bancroft now returned to competitive action after their Sandpapergate suspension the top order is stronger.
JOS BUTTLER PROVIDES VALUE WITH THE BAT
England have longstanding problems with their top three and the hunt to replace Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott has taken too long. So often 30-3 and relying on the middle-order for recovery, the Ashes campaign relies on Rory Burns, Joe Denly and Jason Roy supplementing the runs of Joe Root in the top four.
Roy opened the innings against Ireland, but without red ball experience as an opener has a tendency to go at the ball too hard. His white-ball experience has shown he has international quality, although that would be better suited in the middle-order.
Root is the pedigree Test player in England’s line-up and may yet be persuaded to bat at three in the order where he scored his Test-best 254. Averaging 49.03 in 81 Tests he is the sensible full-stake bet to be his team’s top scorer at 9/4.
Want a longer price with legs in this market and its best to avoid anyone in the top three as there is no guarantee they’ll survive to the 5th Test.
England appears set to have Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, who briefly went up to three before resuming duties behind the stumps, in the middle order. That quartet can power the team to competitive totals, provided they get better protection from those above them.
Since the start of 2018, of players who have played more than five Tests, Jos Buttler has the highest average of those selected for the 1st Test: Buttler: 40.78, Root: 37.35, Woakes: 33.71, S Curran: 31.81, Stokes: 28.92, Bairstow: 26.62, Denly: 24.16, Burns: 22.28. These are pretty sorry stats and suggest Buttler would be a decent half-stake bet at 10/1.
KHAWAJA CATCHES THE EYE FOR AUSTRALIA
Batting is Australia’s weak point and they will be heavily reliant on opener David Warner and Steven Smith. In English conditions, it could be worth finding a player who has plenty of county experience as, if the ball nibbles around, Warner and Smith may struggle.
Usman Khawaja had a disappointing end to his World Cup campaign when he went down with a hamstring strain in the last group match. The 32-year-old scored a century in Australia’s last Test win against Sri Lanka. The left-hander has enjoyed stints with Derbyshire and Lancashire and could be the steady hand required in the middle-order and, at the best price of 6/1 takes my money.
TOP ENGLAND BOWLER
England are blessed with Jimmy Anderson (575) and Stuart Broad (444) who have taken over one thousand Test wickets between them. The Australians certainly know the damage the pair can deliver and 60 all out at Trent Bridge as Broad took eight wickets remains a fresh wound.
Anderson heads the market and could easily land, but he’s now 37 and returning from injury. Broad is more attractively priced (as big as 11/2) but there is no guarantee he will take the new ball with the arrival of Jofra Archer, who will play his first Test at Edgbaston.
Archer had an amazing World Cup but hasn’t played a red-ball game since August last year. He’s unproven in Tests, although he’s taken to every other challenge he’s faced like a duck to water.
Sam Curran and Chris Woakes appear to be fighting for the same place and may not feature in all five games. Moeen Ali. England’s leading spinner is also fighting for his place after poor recent displays and is also best avoided.
TOP AUSTRALIA BOWLER
Pat Cummins is the leading man here at 12/5. In recent Tests, he has been the most prolific of the Aussies and had taken the most wickets in five of the last 11 Australia Tests. He’s been rivalled by Nathan Lyon, but the off-spinner is unlikely to dominate in English conditions.
Elsewhere, Mitchell Starc has injury problems and Josh Hazlewood is returning from a long lay-off, although both could cause the English batsmen headaches. Peter Siddle is a bowler suited to English tracks, but he is unlikely to play all of the matches.
PLAYER OF THE SERIES
There is every indication that this is a series where the ball will dominate bat and therefore it is the bowlers who provide the most interest in this market. There Player of the Series is likely to also come from the winning side and therefore England backers should be tempted by Anderson, Broad or Archer and Aussie believers take a look at Cummins.
As you will see I am backing England to win the series. It makes sense if you have followed me on Stuart Broad to be England’s leading wicket-taker, to take Jimmy Anderson in this market at 11/1, otherwise, you are effectively doubling your liability on one player. This way it is not impossible for both bets to land.
THE TEAM THAT TAKES THE SERIES
If you are backing England to win back the Ashes they must win the series and in recent years the home teams have dominated Test series worldwide and the Ashes has been no different. Talking to Australians in the last few weeks, a number have suggested they would be surprised to see their team win a single Test.
I’m not that pessimistic for Australian chances but think England edge the summer and Joe Root will be the skipper lifting the replica 11cm high Ashes urn in September.
In terms of series scoreline, I’m hedging my bets across the 3-1 and 2-1 score-lines in favour of the home side at 8/1 and 14/1 respectively. The score-lines not adding up to five positive results are where the value presents itself, so you are either looking for poor weather and / or a belting batting wicket leading to a high scoring draw to land anything else. If you are English reading this, you know the weather could be poor for a week, and I’d not be surprised to see two untrusted batting line-ups enjoy some success this summer.
One thing is definite, it’s going to be a terrific series. Shame there isn’t a betting market on that certainty!