Ashes Betting: Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, backing the Aussies is a must...
With the Ashes coming up, Pablo Luna looks at where the two sides are in terms of their preparation, based on available players and form. And it doesn't look too good for England...
Our preparations for the Ashes Series starting 8 July 2009 at Cardiff does not augur well. England and Australia are going in different directions. England continue to tweak, nurdle and fudge whilst the much bolder Australians, though in transition, make real progress.
Appointing Peter Moores on 1 May 2007 as head coach was a frightful mistake and provided the cosy club mentality which in turn resulted in stagnation. The net effect is nearly two years of criminal cricket waste.
Removing Pietersen and making Strauss captain has probably sealed our fate this summer. Humiliated after our heavy defeat in Australia we needed a leader of men but we got a compromise because of factions in the camp. Strauss will be ruthlessly targeted Aussie style - I doubt he will be up to it.
Australia got in a position to win all three Tests against South Africa last year but they lacked experience at how to win. In the current series they have started positively and won the first Test comprehensively in Johannesburg. They are clearly on the up whilst England (ranked 5) struggle to deal with a weak West Indies side (ranked 7) where the best they can hope for is a drawn series (only Bangladesh are ranked below the Windies).
Regarding winning their respective series, Betfair odds show: West Indies [1.49] Drawn Series [2.88]. In South Africa the Betfair odds show Australia as clear favourites: South Africa [5.6] Australia [1.79] Draw [3.6]. That Australia are currently favourites to win a Series down in South Africa and that England are odds-on to lose one in the West Indies speaks volumes.
Andrew Strauss audaciously reminds us that England gain better results without Andrew Flintoff in the side. Despite this fact, we need him for the Ashes Series and the pressure that comes with it. We should use him as a strike bowler and bat him at number eight.
His international statistics do make poor reading however. He has only got five wickets in an innings on two occasions in 75 matches but you sense he brings more than that to a game. For now we should disregard his batting and consider that a bonus when it next comes off.
Flintoff should now be barred from playing in the Indian Premier League by the ECB on fitness grounds. More importantly he should withdraw himself and repay part of the considerable debt he owes to English cricket! It is possible that other factors in the region might deny him this 'money jaunt', in any case, as we digest the news of that cowardly attack in Lahore.
The central contract states that the ECB has the power to decide where and when contracted players will play but the reality is they succumb to appease. Pietersen, Collingwood, Bopara and Shah have also signed deals with IPL teams but unlike Flintoff, they do not represent a fitness gamble.
Meanwhile Ponting and Clarke have both pulled out of the IPL jamboree because they feel that would compromise their efforts against England. Stuart Broad rightly made himself unavailable for the IPL to concentrate on his preparation. He needs to step up a level but remains a plus point of the side.
I salivate at the prospect of how the wounded ego of Pietersen copes with left-armer Mitchell Johnson, a player whose lightning quick progress in the Test match arena has been covered by my colleague Andrew Hughes. The rapidly improving Johnson is a real athlete with pace, bounce and the ability to cut the ball - he will be a difficult opponent on English pitches. If he stays fit he could achieve anything and everything.
With neither side having a genuine spinner in their ranks and neither team having "proper" openers, it leaves the onus on the middle order and the pace bowlers and this state of affairs furthers the claims of the Australians.
Latest Betfair odds show the Australians as worthy favourites and my pick to win the series. England [2.94], Australia [1.96] a Drawn series at [6.4]. Should you feel England can replicate some of that superb 2005 form allied with inclement British weather, then the draw might tempt a few. Before seeing the latest Betfair prices I envisaged Australia at about even money to win, England 2/1 and the draw 4/1. So it's the evens on Australia that I'll be snapping up, and you should do the same before it's gone.