THE Ashes starts next week, here Josh Healey (@joshhealey04) focuses on the best bets involving Australia.
The Ashes | 8th July – 24th August 2015 | Top Australia Bowler/Batsman
It’s fair to say that Australia currently possess the best bowling attack in the world. The strength in depth gives the tourists the upper hand further into the series, but for now it’s providing coach Darren Lehmann with an almighty selection headache.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon should keep his place throughout the series and be accompanied by three seamers, of which the Aussies have five to choose from.
Veteran Ryan Harris has been specially prepared for this series but may sit out a game or two to preserve his fitness. With 24 wickets from five games, budding youngster Josh Hazlewood looks to be well ahead of Peter Siddle in the pecking order, despite the latter’s credible experience in English conditions.
Mitchell Starc is emerging as one of the best left-arm swing bowlers in the world and is sure to play a key role, whilst Mitchell Johnson would be unlucky to miss out after demolishing England in the 2013-14 Ashes series with an outrageous haul of 37 wickets.
With such fierce competition for places the top bowler market is a tough nut to crack, but I’m drawn towards Mitchell Starc this time round. After taking a respectable ten wickets in two games in the Caribbean, Starc can be backed at 100/3 with Winner to claim top series bowler for his side.
Starc bowls with genuine pace and swings the ball late, two traits that when executed as one would spell danger for any batsman. His naturally full length will be the right approach this series and could pay dividends, as it did for Trent Boult earlier in the summer.
Starc bowls a mean yorker and I would not be surprised to see him tasked with mopping up the tail, a responsibility that could see him claim several cheap wickets. He should be just as effective against the left-handers as he is against the right-handers too, and remember England have seven of the former.
The left-arm paceman played three Tests in the 2013 Ashes series in England, claiming 11 wickets. That’s not ground-breaking but he is vastly improved since then, as indicated by his World Cup exploits. Starc’s Test career is yet to take off but I feel as though this could be his break-through series.
The Aussies have a skilled batting line-up but it is rather brittle, as shown in the first Test against the West Indies. In English conditions that characteristic could be magnified if England’s bowlers can consistently hit their straps.
Interestingly, there are a couple of places being contested. Chris Rogers and Shaun Marsh are competing to open the batting alongside David Warner, whilst Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh are tussling for the all-rounders spot.
In terms of the betting very little stands out, perhaps indicating that this Australian batting line-up is far from impenetrable. David Warner’s relentless attacking instincts could be counter-productive against the swinging ball, whilst Chris Rogers is lacking game time and could start slowly as a consequence.
On the surface Michael Clarke appears good value, but in his last eleven matches he has managed just two hundreds and no fifties, a particularly poor run of form for the captain.
The amount of game time Mitchell/Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson will get is unknown and so none can be considered value picks or be backed with any confidence.
Adam Voges perhaps provides that elusive value, especially given his experience in English conditions. However the concern is that his inexperience in the Test arena may count against him.
Unsurprisingly the betting is dominated by Steve Smith. He is 5/2 with Betfair to claim top batsman honours; that may seem short but it’s an acceptable price worth taking.
Smith is now ranked the world’s number one Test batsman after an astonishing last 19 months in which he has averaged 83.9 from 14 games. Looking more recently he has hit five centuries in his last six matches, averaging 127 across those encounters.
Smith is one of the most intelligent batsmen in the world – a master of manipulating the field and picking the gaps. Some say his unconventional technique will work against him in English conditions but I’d argue the opposite. His footwork, against the spinners in particular, is exceptional, and that’s something that will come to the fore in this series.
The now vice-captain has adaptability and versatility in abundance due to his unorthodox ways and, most importantly, he finds a way to score runs no matter what. I am confident he can live up to the hype and lead the way for the tourists this summer.
Top Australia Series Bowler – Mitchell Starc (10/3 Winner)
Top Australia Series Batsman – Steve Smith (5/2 Betfair)
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