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With both Ashes contestants playing warm-up matches, the build up to the big event on July 10 has been slowly gaining momentum. For Australia it has been a good week, but it almost ended in calamity for England. Which one should you add to your sports betting picks?
Australia had a comfortable win over Somerset in a game played under surprisingly competitive conditions. After a shaky start in which discarded England opener Nick Compton scored 81, they came back well to twice bowl out their hosts, whilst almost all of their batsmen got among the runs. This included captain Michael Clarke, playing his first game for almost three months, and that, combined with the athletic catch which he took to dismiss Compton, will have been greatly reassuring for the Australians.
New team coach Darren Lehmann showed that he is not averse to doing things a bit differently, either. During the game itself he announced that former vice-captain Shane Watson would open the batting in the first Test. At the end of it he declared that veteran Chris Hughes, a stalwart of the English county circuit but with only one Test behind him at the age of 35, would be Watson’s partner. That creates a wholly new opening pairing from their catastrophic Indian tour earlier this year, when the now-disgraced David Warner and Ed Cowan were the preferred openers.
With three places in the side still to fill over the next fortnight, both Cowan and Warner could still feature. Philip Hughes looks likely to take the other slot after two fifties against Somerset, so the other slot looks to be between those two and Usman Khawaja. With Warner still suspended after his assault on England’s Joe Root it looks like the others will have to do very badly indeed to lose their spot.
England’s situation was complicated by Compton’s innings, coupled with Root’s scratchiness as Alastair Cook’s opening partner against Essex. As a result Compton has been given permission to play for Worcestershire against the Aussies later this week, whilst Jonny Bairstow will again feel that his Test place is under threat despite not having done much wrong.
Where things almost came unstuck for England, though, was when Graeme Swann took a blow to the arm whilst batting against Essex. Having taken the precaution of resting James Anderson and Stuart Broad, it would have been a horrible thing if it was their premier spinner who was ruled out by injury in this game. Fortunately, no serious damage was caused, whilst Root showed his credentials as an off-spinner by picking up four wickets during Essex’s innings.
Another worry will be that, against an undistinguished Essex attack, England’s supposedly first choice batting lineup were 212-7 in ideal batting conditions before Swann and Tim Bresnan rescued them with a stand of 187. Australia will have noticed that five of the nine England wickets to fall went to Essex’s young leg-spinner Tom Craddock, which means that Fawad Ahmed will almost certainly be called up as soon as his application for citizenship is approved.
England are still around 5/6 betting odds in most markets to win the opening Test, and with the advance warning of the Australian lineup you have to fancy them at the site of their decisive win in the 2005 Ashes. In fact, they are such hot favorites that the best value is in predicting the correct score for the series. If you ignore the car crash that was the 2006/7 series, away sides usually win at least one game (Australia also had a bit of a reputation under Steve Waugh for losing the final match of series they had won), so England at 3-1 will net you 6/1 with the likes of Bet365, whilst Sportingbet have a nice 9/1 on a 2-1 England victory.
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