Ed Hawkins remains unconvinced about the home team's prospects in the first Test of the summer at Lord's from Thursday
"It's a stinker of a price considering the toss bias and a less-than-dominant record at home in the last three years"
England v Pakistan
Thursday 24 May 11.00
TV: live on Sky Sports
England far from solid
England are in a familiar state of low-level panic ahead of their first home Test of the summer. They have question marks over their opening combination, back-up for James Anderson and Stuart Broad and that perennial peeve - where's the top-class spinner?
In two Tests against Pakistan none of these issues are likely to be solved. From that point of view then, it makes sense that Mark Stoneman is given another crack at partnering Alastair Cook and the fragile, but fit, Mark Wood is utilised as a shock bowler.
The likely debut of Dom Bess, an ingenue spinner from Somerset is the brave call. As we have said here, he has to be given a run of games if England have any courage of conviction. The selection of Jos Buttler as a blaster at No 7 could be a masterstroke.
Another significant tweak is the promotion of Joe Root from No 4 to No 3. We're not sure about that. Root needs as much as time as possible to switch off from on-field duty and he needs protection from dangerous Pakistani new-ball bowlers.
Pakistan better prepped than hosts
Unlike most tourists who arrive in England in early summer, Pakistan are not undercooked. In fact, they could be better prepared than their hosts. Tough tour matches against Kent, Northants and Leicestershire and a one-off Test against Ireland have proved ideal.
Naturally Pakistan have had their sticky moments. This is to be expected. An inexperienced batting line-up in these conditions are virtually having to learn a whole new ball game. While pacemen and spinners are working in alien conditions, too.
They have done rather well to emerge undefeated from those warm-ups and they should be confident of catching England cold.
Much onus is placed on Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Abbas with the new ball. And when that has lost its shine Shadab Khan, the leggie, must be at his bamboozling best.
With the bat much depends on Asad Shafiq and Sarfaraz Ahmed knuckling down. The likes of Azhar Ali and Babar Azam are pleasing on the eye yet a little to loose if the ball is darting about.
Heavy toss bias at HQ
The average first match-innings total in the last 15 at Lord's is 381. West Indies, last September, were razed for 123 with Ben Stokes taking six wickets. There has to be a fear that Pakistan could suffer a similar fate. There should be plenty of movement around for the new-ball bowlers. But that shouldn't mean that the captain who wins the toss fields first. Only two teams have won here doing so in the past 20 matches. It's a significant toss bias.
It is true that is largely down to England getting the rub of the green. When they bat first at HQ they bat big. They routinely post 400 and their average is approaching 450 following the 458 they posted against South Africa in July.
England are as short as [1.51] to take a 1-0 lead. It's a stinker of a price considering the toss bias and a less-than-dominant record at home in the last three years. We're not bothered that England can't win away from home, but seven defeats in their last 20 at home, with one draw, does not mean we're screaming value.
One of those defeats, of course, was against Pakistan at Lord's. It was only two years ago. England lost the toss and were given a rough time on a rough pitch by wily spinner Yasir Shah. It could happen again with Shadab their tormentor.
Pakistan are as big as [6.2] for victory. What will happen to that price if the toss goes their way? It'll probably have at least a point lopped off. Still a fair wager. If you take it - as we will do - we have to make our peace with the fact that this is not a Pakistan batting line-up which will post something mammoth. Oh for a Misbah or a Younis.
Cook made 81 in the first innings in that loss two years ago. Back then Cook was still a rock. Now his future is in doubt after a torrid time. His form, coupled with Stoneman's lack of belonging and Root's wobbles means that there is not much to beat. Dawid Malan, then, on his home ground for top-bat honours? He is 7/2 with Betfair Sportsbook. Buttler and Stokes also appeal at 5/1 and 8/1 respectively.
Shafiq and Sarfaraz could star
Shafiq and Sarfaraz are probably two of our favouite players in the world in this context. They are underrated because, frankly, they don't seek the headlines. Both are redoubtable and have solid experience in English conditions. Shafiq is 5/1 and Sarfaraz 14/1 with Betfair Sportsbook.
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