England v India Test Series Betting: India have an unlikely edge
Ed Hawkins suggests the recent heatwave is perfect for the tourists to exploit English weaknesses...
"The reason for India's atrocious record has little to do with temperament and everything to do with conditions. The ball rarely spins like it does at home"
Test series between England and India are rarely ultra-competitive. India have won only three in England in 17 attempts. England have won two of their last eight in India. Only one of these statistics should be relevant when the two begin a five-test contest in Birmingham a week on Wednesday. It's not the one you might think.
Ordinarily, India's travails on foreign lands are significant. They are not surefooted whenever they leave the Asian sub-continent. They have had only four successes since 1986 (31 series) and two of those came against a beleaguered West Indies.
Of course, the reason for their atrocious record has little to do with temperament and everything to do with conditions. The ball rarely spins like it does at home, often nullifying their most potent wicket-taking weapon, and their batsmen are unused to either seam, swing or bounce.
England are the opposite. When they go to Asia it's like dropping a waddle of penguins in Chennai and expecting them to be okay with it. The heat, the dust, the raging turn on crumbling pitches. No thanks.
At least England can console themselves they can get their own back in the return fixture. There is a problem with that this time around, however, thanks to a heatwave which could make India feel very much at home.
Walk across your local park and it will feel as if you're walking on concrete. The grass, if any has survived, will crackle and fizz under your feet. Parched, dry and crumbling wickets this summer could make England feel very peculiar.
Indeed, it could prove to be a perfect storm (Joe Root must be praying for a meteorological one or two). Wickets which assist spin could simultaneously rob England of their greatest strength and expose their greatest weakness.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad require assistance from the pitch to get the ball seaming or some help from over head to get the ball swinging. Without it, as they often find when abroad, they are reduced to stock bowlers hoping to keep one end quiet. It is the chief reason why England have had such a horrible record themselves on the road recently.
Anderson and Broad are artists and on those types of wickets you need a battering ram or the guile of a top-class spinner. Mark Wood is the closest to the former. The latter? Well, that is the great weakness.
In their struggles against Pakistan earlier this summer, England trialled Dom Bess, an ingenue off-break from Somerset. Bess, as you would expect for a 20-year-old who hadn't been playing first-class cricket for more than two years, struggled. He took three wickets.
Pressure on Leach
So England are expected to turn to his county team-mate, Jack Leach. Leach was the man in possession before Pakistan but a broken thumb ruled him out. He is no saviour, though. Leach has played one Test and he managed only one wicket for England Lions against India A this week.
He may well turn out into a fantastic Test bowler. But to expect him to hit the ground spinning against India, of all batting line-ups, is stretching credulity. The likes of Virat Kohli and Chet Pujara can play men of Leach's experience with one arm tied behind their back. It's a different story, of course, against genuine international spinners. But England don't have one.
The axing of Moeen Ali could return to haunt England, unless they are comfortable with the idea of the series proving to be training ground for Leach. And that's fine, by the way. At some stage England are going to have to learn to lose at home before they can win away.
Moeen would strengthen their batting and give them some semblance of control and wicket-taking threat from a spinner. If not him, then an unlikely return to red-ball cricket for Adil Rashid is not as outlandish as it sounds.
Trevor Bayliss, the coach, said Rashid is bowling better than ever and the ubiquitous four-ball he chucked in every over seems to have disappeared. His extraordinary delivery to remove Kohli - and turn the game in the deciding ODI - will certainly give India something extra to think about.
At the moment, India have a quiet confidence because of the change in conditions and England's dearth of options. They also know that they could field three spinners with Ravi Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin two of them. Jadeja and Ashwin are Nos 3 and 5 in the world. The third is Kuldeep Yadav who bamboozled England in the limited-overs action with 14 wickets.
India's spin edge is a major fillip. Without it, they could be in trouble. The loss of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuv Kumar to injury, in ordinary circumstances, could have ended their challenge before it began given their expertise at making the ball move.
At Edgbaston, then, England could feel like the aliens. Not least because of the packed and partisan support India will receive from the diaspora. England don't look a huge amount of fun at [2.02] on the match odds, with India [3.4] and the draw [4.6].
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l