BOXING Day is always a massive day in international cricket, but the MCG won’t be the only place rocking on December 26 this year.
South Africa and England will open their four-match Test series this Saturday at Durban, while New Zealand will play the first of five ODI games against Sri Lanka at Christchurch.
Let’s take a closer look at both match-ups, with value odds from our trusted cricket betting sites.
South Africa vs. England
First Test – starts 10:00am local time on Saturday, December 26, 2015 at Kingsmead, Durban
Sth Africa – $2.29 (Sportsbet.com)
England – $3.25 (CrownBet.com)
Draw – $3.50 (WilliamHill.com)
Normally, the world leaders in the ICC Test rankings would be short-priced favourites on home soil.
The Proteas are a notable exception, as they have lost 14 out of 47 Tests on their own patch since 2006.
They come into this series with no great form either, having recently suffered a comprehensive 3-0 defeat in India after failing to beat Bangladesh over two Tests.
Their depth was seriously tested on the subcontinent, especially in a batting order where the top three of Stiaan van Zyl, Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla all struggled for runs.
But Russell Domingo, the team’s head coach, has expressed supreme confidence in the abilities of his current crop.
“We’ve got some serious quality in our batting line-up,” Domingo told the press earlier this week.
“We know it’s all about runs and putting in big performances but we know it’s one big score away, one good start, or one dropped catch and somebody can get a bit of luck and a bit of momentum going and everything will click back into place.
“We are very confident that the group we’ve got are the best players in the country.”
South Africa will also be boosted by the return of their talismanic fast bowler, Dale Steyn, who is expected to play after passing a fitness test this week.
On the other side of the fence, England are sweating on the fitness of James Anderson after he underwent a calf scan on Tuesday morning.
The 33-year-old is now expected to sit out even if the results come up clear, which would see Chris Woakes join Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Ben Stokes in a four-pronged seam attack.
Even without their veteran swing bowler, the Brits will head to Durban confident in their ability to secure a result on the lively surfaces of Kingsmead.
The Basil D’Oliveira Trophy (as this match-up has been known since 2004) is a traditionally tight affair, and England have lost only two out of nine Test matches on their last two visits to South Africa.
South Africa squad: Hashim Amla (C), Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Dane Peidt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl.
England squad: Alastair Cook (C), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Jos Butler, Nick Compton, Steven Finn, Mark Footitt, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Chris Woakes.
Draw – $3.50 at William Hill
Top batsman bets
AB de Villiers (SAF) – $3.75 at Sportsbet
Alastair Cook (ENG) – $4.33 at Sportsbet
Top bowler picks
Morne Morkel (SAF) – $3.75 at CrownBet
Steven Finn (ENG) – $4.50 at William Hill
New Zealand vs. Sri Lanka
First ODI – 11:00am local time on Saturday, December 26, 2015 at Hagley Oval, Christchurch
New Zealand – $1.42 (Sportsbet.com)
Sri Lanka – $3 (Bet365.com)
The Black Caps have every reason to feel confident ahead of their Boxing Day bash at Christchurch.
Brendon McCullum’s men secured a 2-0 Test series victory over Sri Lanka last Sunday, courtesy of a match-winning 108 not out from Kane Williamson – now the world’s top-ranked batsman in the long form.
However, they will be without some important players for the early stages of the five-game ODI series.
Left-arm seamer Trent Boult will miss the first three matches as he nurses a back problem he carried through the recent tour of Australia.
Boult’s new-ball partner, Tim Southee, will also sit out Boxing Day and the follow-up clash on December 28.
Mike Hesson, the NZ head coach, told reporters last week: “Both Trent and Tim, by the time we get to the next Test, would have played five Tests in a row.
“It’s a long season and we need some fresh legs steaming in at the first ODI.”
Matt Henry will fill the void in the meantime, joining Mitchell McClenaghan and the fit-again Adam Milne in the pace ranks.
Also out are Corey Anderson, James Neesham, Grant Elliot and Nathan McCullum, all of whom were part of the 2015 Cricket World Cup squad which reached the final.
On the progress of allrounders Anderson and Neesham, Hesson added: “Corey is running in a bit harder than he has and is starting to increase his loads but it’s likely he could be considered for the T20 as a batsman.
“We hope by the back end of the season he will play a role with the ball.
“In terms of James, he’s a long way off from bowling at the moment but it’s nice to see him back playing cricket again.”
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan cricket is still reeling from the loss of wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Perera, who was sent home after testing positive for a banned substance earlier this month.
Kaushal Silva was drafted in for the Test series, but Dinesh Chandimal is expected to wear the gloves in the ODIs.
Another notable absentee is fast bowler Dhammika Prasad, who injured his back in a warm-up game prior to the Test series.
Nuwan Kulasekara will take his spot for the one-dayers.
The tourists could also be without white-ball specialist Lasith Malinga, who is still working his way back from a knee injury sustained during the West Indies’ recent tour of Sri Lanka.
If Malinga doesn’t pass fit, Thisara Perera will take his spot in the squad.
New Zealand squad: Brendon McCullum (C), Doug Bracewell, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Mitch McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson.
Sri Lanka squad: Angelo Mathews (C), Dushmantha Chameera, Dinesh Chandimal, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Danushka Gunathilaka, Chamara Kapugadera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Nuwan Pradeep, Sachithra Senanayake, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimmane, Jeffrey Vandersay, Nuwan Kulasekara.
NZ to win – $1.42 at Sportsbet
Top batsman picks
Martin Guptill (NZ) – $4.50 at CrownBet
Dinesh Chandimal (SL) – $5.20 at CrownBet
Top bowler bets
Doug Bracewell (NZ) – $4.33 at Bet365
Dushmantha Chameera (SL) – $5 at Bet365
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