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Even in their wildest dreams England cannot have expected the 2013 Ashes series to be this one-sided. All thoughts of a close contest, engendered by that 14-run win at Trent Bridge, were blown away on Friday at Lord’s.
First of all, there was the easy way that Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann humped 48 runs for the last England wicket to see them to a par score of over 350 for their first innings. And then there was the way that the Australian batting meekly subsided to 128 all out in the space of two sessions, throwing away their wickets without a care in the world. Even the loss of three cheap wickets of their own could be overlooked in the Joe Root-inspired run feast that followed.
And now, as if things could not get any worse for the Aussies, fast bowler James Pattinson has been ruled out for the rest of the series with a stress fracture in his back. That gives them a problem in more ways that one. First of all, they only have one other right-armed quick bowler on the tour, the relatively untried Jackson Bird, who has just two Tests under his belt. All of the other back-up bowlers are left-handed. Playing a left-hander is the last thing Australia want to do, because a left arm quick bowler will create rough outside the off stump of their right-hand batsman for England’s spinner Graeme Swann to bowl into. Swann caused enough havoc among their left-hand batsmen at Lord’s without giving him an aid to getting the right-handers out, too.
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The other problem is that his absence rules out the possibility of Australia going into the Old Trafford Test on August 1 with two spinners. Whilst Ashton Agar has been ineffectual with the ball, the temptation to turn to veteran off-spinner Nathan Lyon and to call up leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed was only increased as England lost three wickets to the part-time leg spin of Steve Smith on Thursday evening. But whilst Pattinson has been the least effective of Australia’s pace bowlers to date, his batting would be needed in the number nine spot and his presence would allow them to rest the injury-prone Ryan Harris.
Australia therefore need to decide whether to go into this game with two slow bowlers but effectively three number eleven batsmen, or to play either Mitchell Starc or the uncapped James Faulkner, which would give them more batting but play into the hands of Swann.
As for their batting generally, it is hard to see what they can do to change things. Having nailed themselves firmly to Shane Watson and Chris Rogers as openers they will be grateful for the solidity shown by the unheralded Usman Khawaja at three in the order, at least in the second innings. Captain Michael Clarke needs to stop hiding down at five and move back up the order, but him swapping places with Phil Hughes looks like being the only change.
What does all of this mean for your Ashes cricket picks? Well, backing England to win the series is almost pointless. The best price you will get is with Skybet, and it is 1/20. Similarly, a bet on Australia to come back and win 3-2 looks hopelessly optimistic, even at 50/1 with Sportingbet.
You can look instead to the series correct score market, for one thing. For a long time, 3-0 to England was the hot favorite, but that has drifted out now in the wake of this abject Aussie performance. In fact, you’ll get 8/1 on that now with Bet365 and it looks a pretty fine price. Bear in mind that at least one of these games is going to be affected by the weather, and that there is no incentive for England to do more than draw every game to win the series. If you don’t think they would do that latter thing, then think back to 2005 and the final Test where, needing only a draw to regain the Ashes, England replaced injured fast bowler Simon Jones with batsman Paul Collingwood.
Another place to make money is in the top batsman markets. In truth, the poor performance of Australia’s batsmen has deflected attention from England’s own travails, where Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and (to a lesser extent) Jonathan Trott have failed to make runs. In the Aussie version of this market Khawaja looks a decent price at 10/1 with Ladbrokes, whilst for England Root at 9/1 with Skybet is my choice.
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