Ed Hawkins says the value in Chennai from early Friday depends on the tourists getting the chance to bat first...
"England need to bat first. They need that wearing pitch and scoreboard pressure to reduce the gulf. That's if you're letting a wager on them run"
India v England
Friday 5 February, 04:00
TV: live Channel 4
Big guns back
Having been stripped to the bare bones in Australia, India are plump and bursting at the scenes. Back comes Virat Kohli to lead - is that a good thing considering Ajinkya Rahan's brilliance? - while Ravi Ashwin, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are fit.
It leaves the hosts with conundrums. Do they play five bowlers or four? Do they pick three spinners as they normally do at this venue? Does Rishabh Pant keep hold of the gloves? Is Hardik Pandya risked as a genuine all-rounder?
Perhaps few of these decisions will make a difference to the result. India have their core, their spine back and it is strong. Rohit Sharma and Chet Pujara will be expected to play differing roles to set it up for Kohli. Rohit can attack and demoralise. Pujara can grind the bowlers into dust with patience and obduracy. The potential of Pant and Hardik coming in for quick runs against a weary opposition may be what swings the selection decision.
Possible XI Rohit, Gill, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Pant, Hardik, Ashwin, Sundar, Bumrah, Ishant
England are a man down before a ball has been bowled. Zak Crawley has been ruled out of the first two Tests after he slipped and hurt a wrist. England might not be fretting about the loss of Crawley the person, instead of Crawley the No 3.
The injury puts pressure on Joe Root to move up to a position he dislikes, or play Dan Lawrence and Ollie Pope both who are unsuited to the role so early in their Test career. Ben Stokes is another option.
Otherwise England will wrestle with similar selection issues. If the pitch retains grass they are likely to delay the chance to bowl three spinners, meaning Moeen Ali will miss out. And that means two from three of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Jofra Archer get a game. England may not be able to resist pairing Broad and Anderson on a rare Indian surface which could assist.
Possible XI Burns, Sibley, Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, Buttler, Bess, Broad, Anderson, Leach
To add to the theme of uncertainty, no-one is quite sure what this wicket is going to do. Early reports have suggested a good covering of grass. It could be a ruse to unsettle England plans. On the first day it could have been all shaved off. In the past spin has dominated. The last first-class match was over in two days as it was a turning terror track.
There have only been two Tests in ten years. India won both hammering England (2016) and Australia. Spin won it for them. Spinners took all of Australia's wickets. Between the two games, 66% of wickets fell to spin. The 13/8 that Sportsbook offer about both teams scoring 275 or more doesn't look a bad wager.
England have to bat first
Do England find themselves in a rare position of being better prepared than the home team? The Sri Lanka tour could well have served as the perfect warm-up. Meanwhile India, although at full-strength, might suffer one of their common sluggish starts. A bunch of them are coming in cold.
We're not playing 1.501/2 India, then. That's not to say we don't recognise them as vastly superior man for man. The batting from Nos 1-6 is formidable and their bowling, led by the unrivalled spinner Ravi Ashwin, has teeth. England are going to have to hang in there. But they can do that so long as the toss goes their way and they have the opportunity to go big on a surface which will be at its best for batting early on.
Root's form in Sri Lanka, and the return of Ben Stokes, are major boosts. So we can see a trade working on England from 5.609/2. A bigger chunk, though could come from the draw price of England bat first. That's at 6.4011/2. A score of 400 or more will see it crash as the market will reckon India can trump it.
England need to bat first. They need that wearing pitch and scoreboard pressure to reduce the gulf. That's if you're letting a wager on them run.
Kohli is 2/1 for top India bat in the first dig. Root is the same. Sportsbook go 9/2 that both score a first-innings fifty. They go 7/1 and 8/1 about man of the match for the premier batsmen on either side. Rohit is 11/4 for top India bat and, as discussed in our series preview, we have an eye on him for something monstrous this series.
As for the spinners, Ashwin is no better than 15/8 to take most wickets for India in the first innings. Jack Leach and Dom Bess are 9/4 and 5/2. Broad and Anderson hold more appeal at 3/1. The spin duo's threat is most potent on wearing, dusty surfaces in the third and fourth.
India v England preview on Cricket...Only Bettor
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. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l & COB Best Bets year end