Australia last five tests: WWDDW
England Last five tests: LWLWD
The pinnacle of Test cricket is upon us.
Two bitter rivals. Old enemies. A series steeped in rich tradition.
A series that makes every Australian and every Englishman wait with baited breath.
And a series that makes the punters come out in their droves, putting their money where their patriotic mouths are by backing in their nation to come away victorious – and their nation’s players to collect the spoils of big performances.
The 69th incarnation of a series that harks back to 1877 promises to be something special, with both sides pouring fuel on the fire, trading verbal barbs in the lead up to the first Test at Cardiff.
Most recently, firebrand opener David Warner revealed why he whacked Joe Root in an alcohol fuelled attack back in 2013.
Warner claimed Root used an Australian wig to make fun of South African Hashim Amla.
“(There) were little things going on throughout the night,” Warner said.
“A mate of mine was actually wearing it (the wig) on top of his head like a Malinga wig.
“Root decided to come in and take it off my mate’s head and start acting the way he did.
“When people are drunk that’s what they do but I thought it was a bit inappropriate the way he went about that stuff so I went over and tried to take it off him.
“I just think in today’s society you shouldn’t be fooling around with that kind of stuff.
“And he probably didn’t mean anything by it at all but I just thought … actually I can’t say I thought … I probably let my aggression and alcohol take over there and probably made an excuse for me to go over there and actually take it off him.”
But Root has rubbished the claims, Tweeting: ‘Disappointing to have my character questioned’.
“Those who know me realise how ridiculous Warner’s excuse for hitting me sounds … but that’s his choice to try and justify his actions.
“I’m extremely excited about next week and getting back out there.”
Apart from that, there’s been the usual arty bargy, with the Aussies favoured to win both the series and the first Test, starting on Wednesday evening.
Are the bookmakers more excited than the punters?
Our friends at sportsbet.com.au have released a host of markets, from the enticing to the downright crazy.
The Aussies are $1.36 with the bookie to win the series and $1.83 to win the first Test, with the English $5 for the series and $4 for the opener. A drawn series is $7, while a first Test stalemate id $3.50.
“Ninety per cent of money placed on the series winner has gone on Australia and a 5-0 scoreline is the second most popular option,” sportsbet.com.au’s Christian Jantzen said.
“Several records could fall by the wayside if punters have got it right.”
If you think records could fall, Jantzen said there were plenty of markets to take advantage of.
“I know we’re talking the Aussies up but, let’s face it, England are ripe for the picking,” he said.
The bookie has some outlandish odds on offer for records to fall in the series.
It’s priced someone to either beat Sir Donald Bradman’s record of 974 runs in an Ashes Series or England’s incredible 903 run innings at $276 – fat chance.
But, more attainable records could come from the glovemen, with Brad Haddin’s 29 catch record priced at $17 and the nine catch record, held by Aussie legends Rod Marsh and Ian Healy, $23.
Len Hutton’s record of 364 runs in an Ashes innings is priced at $41 to fall, Bradman and Bill Ponsford’s 451 run partnership is $151 to tumble and if some superhuman bowler can take more than Jim Laker’s 46 wickets in a series it will pay $176.
“At $41, Dave Warner wouldn’t have to bat too long to eclipse Len Hutton’s 364 runs in a single innings, and the legendary Bradman and Ponsford stand of 451 could be in danger of being smashed ($151) if he gets going with any one of our top seven, Jantzen said.
The reshuffled top order is obviously a key for the Australians, with world number one Test batsman Steve Smith set to undergo a baptism of fire at number three with the much vaunted swinging Dukes ball set to be his toughest test.
Captain Michael Clarke will be hoping he can add to his seven Ashes tons – the most of any active player in the series – and opener David Warner can obviously rip a test away from any side in a session.
For the Poms, Alistair Cook will be looking to atone for a horrid series last time out, while Ian Bell will be a typical thorn in the Aussie’s side. Root is also on the improve and the Australians will have to deal with the usual seam suspects in antagonist Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Ben Stokes still looms as the ace in the hole for the Poms, his all round talents shining in the last Ashes series.
First test winner: Australia ($1.83 with sportsbet.com.au)
Despite the retirement of Harris, the Aussies all of a sudden have a wealth of seam stocks, with Siddle, so often a terroriser of English batsmen, set to miss.
The two Mitch’s have enough firepower to blast an English side out by themselves, while Hazlewood has been a revelation, coming off a superb series in the Caribbean.
As we’ve mentioned, the swinging Dukes ball looms as a litmus test for many of the Aussie bats, but the allure of Anderson as a strike bowler is beginning to fade and its clear the Australian’s don’t hold a lot of fear of Broad.
Look for Warner and fellow opener Chris Rogers – an expert in warfare on English wickets – to assert their authority and then for Smith, Clarke and company to inflict plenty of damage with the willow.
If they can negotiate the swing and the weather stays nice – it’s been hitting 30 degrees over there over the past week – we might just see another 5-0 Ashes white wash.
Time will tell, but for now we’re backing the Australians to kick off the series with a neat victory in Cardiff.
England: Alastair Cook (captain), Joe Root (vice captain), Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wicket keeper), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Adil Rashid.
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), Steven Smith (vice captain), Fawad Ahmed, Brad Haddin (wicket keeper), Josh Hazlewood, Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill (wicket keeper), Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Adam Voges, David Warner, Shane Watson.
Ashes series top wicket taker and run scorer markets and First Test picks
In an interesting turn of events, seamers Starc, Johnson and Hazlewood can’t be split in the series wicket taker markets by the sportsbet.com.au oddsmen.
All three are joint $3.75 favourites, but more money had come for Hazlewood than any other bowler.
“We can’t decide who’ll do the most damage with the ball but punters certainly have,” Jantzen said.
“Josh Hazlewood has been the best backed with 50 per cent more money placed on him than Mitchell Starc.
“It’s more clear cut when it comes to the batting – Steve Smith heads the market at $3.10 ahead of David Warner at $3.75 and skipper Michael Clarke at $5.50.
First Test first innings top wicket taker tip: Mitchell Johnson ($3.50 with sportsbet.com.au)
While the punters like Hazlewood in the series betting, we’re going with the proven performer in Johnson, who has plenty to bowl for, with the 300 wicket barrier looming. After he equalled Craig McDermott’s 291 wickets in the West Indies, that is very doable in the first Test and we think he might turn it on with a five wicket haul in the first innings. Food for thought: In his last Ashes series, Johnson terrorised the English and took 37 wickets. If he goes close to that again, he’ll be fourth on Australia’s all time wicket taker list.
First Test first innings top run scorer tip: Steve Smith ($3.75 with sportsbet.com.au)
We mulled over Clarke and Warner, but it’s simply impossible to go past the best Test batsman in the world. While it was only the West Indies – who, incidentally, recently beat the Poms in a Test, Smith cracked his ninth century in 17 matches and fifth in six, putting the Calypso Kings to the sword in spectacular style. That comes off a brilliant series against the Indians and, while he doesn’t have the prettiest technique, that thing is working for him and we’re backing him in to dominate the English on their home turf. We’ve bet against him before, we’re not doing it again. How about a double ton to open the series? It’s not beyond him.
Ryan Harris calls it a day
While neither side has announced its team yet, the Australians will have one notable omission, heart and soul seamer Ryan Harris announcing his retirement from cricket yesterday.
In what is blow to the Aussie pace stocks, Harris, who’s injury riddled career produced just 27 Tests, succumbed to a dodgy knee and general body soreness.
He will be remembered as a bowler that could tear the heart out of a side and bowler that took 113 wickets at the miserly average of just 23.52, with a best performance of 7/117.
He was also no slouch with the bat, with 603 runs and three half tons to his name and an average of 21.53.
“Now is the right is the time to step away from cricket,” Harris said.
“I’m pretty lucky, I have had a wonderful career and nothing made me prouder than pulling on the Baggy Green.
“I played 27 more Tests than I ever thought I would and I have relished every single moment of them.
”I play every game like it’s my last.”
Pat Cummins gets a late call up for the outgoing seamer, but his retirement solves a selection dilemma, with the Aussies expected to go with the two Mitchell’s, Johnson and Starc, and Josh Hazlewood to look after the seam duties, although veteran Peter Siddle will also put his hand up.
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