Australia v England
Friday 14 January 04.30
TV: live on BT Sport
Khawaja and Head to play?
Analysis in this series has been dominated by the voyeuristic car crash of picking through the rubble of England's insipid and incomprehensible decision-making and performances. It has been forgotten that there is another team actually playing some decent stuff.
But as much as the good things Australia have done have been ignored, so too have their weaknesses. They don't necessarily have to be exposed to know they are there.
At the SCG, however, Australia were under pressure for the first time in the series. And they creaked. Sure, it was pressure applied by a ticking clock but few could argue that Pat Cummins was guilty of the most ludicrous declaration seen in many a year.
That doesn't bode well unless he learns sharpish. Australia also have an issue with the gloves. Alex Carey is keeping on one leg it seems.
These problems don't help England - especially as Usman Khawaja likely replacing Marcus Harris strengthens them - but they are worth remembering when Australia come up against more durable opponents in harsher conditions.
Probable XI: Warner, Khawaja, Labuschagne, Smith, Head, Green, Carey, Cummins, Starc, Lyon, Boland.
England limp on
England have been horrible but credit where credit is due. They showed guts to hang on for a draw on the fifth day in Sydney.
That they even agreed to play was surprising. With no coaching staff and Covid in the camp, we can think of at least one international team who would have called off the tour.
Still, since Brisbane avoiding a whitewash was the limit of their ambitions and with that now reached this could be a game too far. Not least because the injury list is horrific.
Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow may play as specialist batters. Sam Billings, drafted in because of 'local' convenience, gets a cheap Test debut.
Who will bowl Stokes' overs? Well, England may have to go with four bowlers. And they might not include a weary James Anderson and Mark Wood. Ollie Robinson should return from injury while Chris Woakes and Craig Overton compete for the bowling all-rounder slot.
Could both play? Or even one from Anderson or Wood? Yes but it would mean Dawid Malan opening with Zak Crawley instead of Rory Burns coming back in place of Haseeb Hameed.
Possible XI: Crawley, Malan, Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Billings, Overton, Woakes, Broad, Robinson, Leach
The Bellerive is difficult to call. We have seen contradictory surfaces consistently. In only two Tests in six years, Australia made 583 v West Indies in 2015 and a year later were bowled out for 85 v South Africa to lose by an innings. Eight out of 13 have been won by the side batting first.
In the 2021 first-class season, Tasmania chased 318 v Western Australia in the fourth, New South Wales were rolled for 32 and Queensland chased 310 in the fourth with a certain Khawaja recording an unbeaten ton in fourth and Marnus Labuschagne making 50.
The weather forecast is not too bad. Only days two and three may be troubled by afternoon rain. One wouldn't back the draw off the back of it.
The pink ball, though, may hoop more in overcast conditions. And despite the confusing pitch picture, it's a seller's game on innings runs. But when?
From the outset the pink ball does more than the red so openers watch out. Then after about 11, 12 overs there is a dramatic drop off in movement all the way through until the 50th over. When night falls, bowlers are back in the game.
The night session is when batting has been at its most tricky in terms of averages. This could be due to the difficulty batsmen have in adjusting to the lights.
So going long of runs is not advised early on. Wait until that 11th over and hopefully you'll get a cheap buy. We expect both sides to be capable of recovery from early wickets. The time to expect wickets again is the night session.
Prices of note from Sportsbook include the 11/4 that no century is scored in the match and the 11/10 that Australia win, have the highest opening partnership in first innings and a a first-innings lead. Bet here.
Aussie price to come up
Australia's price has collapsed from 1.865/6 to 1.491/2. That's either because the weather forecast has improved or a whisper has escaped about England's team news.
We expect Australia to win but clearly we don't play at such skinny odds. Using the in-play guide above in the pitch report, there should be an opportunity to bet them in that 1.804/5 region. England are 7.807/1, which is a terrible price, and the draw is 4.804/1.
Labuschagne has been boosted to 10/3 for top Australia bat in the first dig. If tormentor Wood is out that's a bet. Khawaja is 9/2, David Warner is 10/3 and Steve Smith 3/1. Labuschagne is 13/10 for a first-innings fifty.
For England we like Overton at 33s (he's topped twice in Australia would you believe) while Billings also has appeal at 9s. He should benefit from a 'nothing to lose' mindset.
Mitchell Starc is the king on the pink ball and it's a surprise he's not favourite for top Aussie. The 11/4 looks like a wager. The 11/1 that he is man of the match is not too shabby, either.
* Don't miss Ed Hawkins' in-play guide for every day of the Test
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