Initially, this series was billed as little more than a starter, a mere hors d’ouvre before the real cricket started. That was before England visited the Land of the Long White Cloud back in February and March and barely escaped with a draw from a Test series they were expected to win easily. Although they were denied a win in Wellington by the weather, it must be remembered that only heroic batting performances from tailenders saved them in the other two, with Steven Finn batting for almost a day (and his maiden first class fifty) in Dunedin and then Monty Panesar blocking out the final over in Auckland.
We shall look at the teams in more detail next week (England won’t announce theirs until the weekend) but we know that the hosts will be without Kevin Pietersen as he struggles to recover from the knee injury that caused him to miss both that Auckland game and the IPL and which now looks like likely to keep him out of the Champions Trophy as well. New Zealand, on the other hand, have been boosted by the early return of captain Brendon McCullum and former skipper Ross Taylor from the IPL. Neither player had much fun there (McCullum only played one game, scoring a meagre six runs) and both will need to be on top form when the First Test starts at Lord’s on Thursday 16th May.
Early sports betting has England as 4/7 favourites to win that game, with the visitors at 9/1. My money, though, is going on the draw at 23/10 with Paddy Power. With the recent warm weather in England set to break this weekend it looks unlikely that five days of play will be possible and indeed at 9/2 (Sportingbet) the series draw looks well priced, too.
Now is also a good time to get into the ‘top batsmen’ markets as, inevitably, the prices are better before anyone has had a chance to score a run. On the England side, the short betting odds are always on captain Alastair Cook and the limpet-like Jonathan Trott, but Cook’s opening partner Nick Compton was one of the few to come out of the New Zealand tour with his reputation enhanced as he made his first two Test hundreds. At 5/1 with BetVictor he’s my tip in this market.
On the New Zealand side there is more value to play with. Taylor is a class act and looks a decent price at 5/1, but he hasn’t been in great form and time may be catching up with him. The same is true of McCullum who, although well priced at 7/2, might find the big hitting that made him a success in his home country harder to pull off on the larger Test grounds in England. My pick, therefore, is the nuggetty young number three Kane Williamson, who made runs in almsot every innings against England and who looks as hard to dislodge as Trott is. At 4/1 with 888.com I’m backing him for success.