Ed Hawkins begins a new Betting.Betfair series outlining our star tipsters' tried and tested methods of successful betting. And our man opens up with some wise words on Test match cricket...
"Tests just don’t go the distance anymore to the point where a weather forecast would have to interest Noah to make punters consider backing the draw. There has been only four draws in 36 Tests in the last 12 months."
"It was a test of your skill, a test of your courage and a test of your intelligence. As far as I was concerned it was perfectly named."
So said Australia legend Ian Chappell about playing Test cricket. Betting on the thing isn't much different.
Chappell may as well have added patience. Just as the batsmen has to bide his time and wait for the opportunity to score, or the bowler to eke out a mistake, so too must the punter wait for the optimum time to place a wager. Fortitude may also be required. Waiting a potential five days for your money in an era of decreasing concentration span is no easy task.
While Twenty20 and one-day internationals have provided gamblers with the immediate fix, deciphering the format revered by the purists still provides the most satisfaction. Considering the ever-changing variables, the time, the price fluctuations and profiting on Tests is, well, perfectly named. So how do you do it?
Don't be afraid of stereotypes
It's not the done thing these days to rely on tropes. But in cricket betting it is vital to understand the character foibles which persist among the Test-playing nations. It's pretty easy.
Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa do not travel well to Asia. Why? Because their batsmen and bowlers find conditions alien to the ones which they have developed their skills. A batter or bowler in England has set up his game to respectively defend against or attack with seam or swing. When England go to India, they have to learn a whole new ball game. Literally. They face dry, dusty wickets and spinners with mysterious actions. It's why England have won twice in India in their last eight attempts.
Conversely, Indian, Pakistan or Sri Lankan batsmen and bowlers struggle when they leave Asia. Again, they are having to adapt their technique and temperament to a different way of playing. Even India's prodigiously talented 2020 Test team, rated No 1 in the world, have fared poorly. Only this February they were beaten out of sight in New Zealand with their batsmen frankly hopeless against countering a home attack expert on seaming and swinging wickets which are the norm there. New Zealand were [2.68] and [2.34] to win the two Tests. Outstanding value if you understood the challenge India faced.
It has never been more important to grasp because white-ball cricket is eroding technique and temperament to reinforce the stereotypes. Away wins in Test matches are rare. To be more precise, in the last 12 months a 27% chance.
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Know the players
It's not a bad starting point, eh? Match up the XIs man for man, looking at their basis statistics. For batters, that means an average of more than 40, the high watermark for players of quality. For bowlers, how many average under 30? Conversely if a team's top five is comprised of players who are scratching around mid 30s and lower, they will have problems batting the time required to set up a victory. Bowlers whose wickets cost more runs...you'll soon decipher if teams are well matched or there is chasm between them.
But it is also worth being more forensic. Break down performances into home versus away and filter in the specific conditions they are likely to face. You can do this using Cricnfo's Statsguru, a hugely valuable tool for the cricket punter.
An example is David Warner. A wonderful player whose ferocious cutting and pulling has propelled him to an average of 48. A player who can hypnotise punters. But he averages 26 in England. And 26 in India. This suggests that in conditions where the ball seams or spins he is not so assured. It is crucial to try to understand how players' games adapt, or don't, to different conditions.
Bowlers, though, are the match-winners. By and large a team has to take 20 wickets to win a Test. We are more enamoured with a group of bowlers who boast averages in the right margin than the batters. A good bowling team is often value against a team high on batting ability because the market can be wowed by batting prowess.
To see further into the matrix, punters need to grasp the importance of the key variables - the toss and the pitch.
If you don't know the answer to the following questions, you should not bet: is there a toss bias at the venue? What is the wicket like?
Why would we want to bet pre-toss on a short favourite without knowing that there is a heavy bias for the team batting first? If the aim is to ensure safe, rationale wagers instead of feeling like a mug (it is, by the way), then it is vital to do your homework.
Likewise how the wicket performs. You don't want to be betting on a team (like New Zealand) who are heavily reliant on seam and swing bowlers at a ground which offers nothing to their pace attack, say, The Gabba, in Brisbane. By checking first-innings scores and the types of bowlers who have done well, it is possible to build up an idea of a wicket's characteristics. You will find they are reliable.
A third variable is weather. Get overcast conditions on a renowned seamer, like Headingley in England, and you can expect batsmen to struggle regardless of their records.
The key trends
In 2004 I authored a chapter on cricket for the a book called The Definitive Guide to Betting on Sport. I wrote a section headlined 'Always look to oppose the draw'. Very little has changed. Sixteen years later laying the draw remains a route to profit, although the road is slightly bumpier these days because of the vast difference in price.
Back then, the stalemate in a Test match might be priced at around [2.25]. In the first Test between New Zealand and India in February it went off at [6.00]. It's a huge disparity as punters have, over time, wised up to the fact that all of the above stereotypes, players struggling in alien conditions and erosion of technique through the white ball, has meant that Tests just don't go the distance anymore to the point where a weather forecast would have to interest Noah to make punters consider backing the draw.
There has been only four draws in 36 Tests in the last 12 months. And had you layed the draw in every Test since 2008 you would be green (check the excellent @frogcrunchy for the data)
For the same reasons that the draw price has rocketed, we expect more of the same for the team that loses the toss and has to field first. With many pitches deteriorating (fourth-innings batting is notoriously hard) those foibles are hard to foist. In the last 12 months there's just shy of a 60% bias for the side batting first in result matches.