Is he a top-bat bet?
Steve Smith has top scored in every first-innings this series for Australia. So you can't blame Sportsbook for going just even money that the man England cannot get out for a low score will top bat again, the shortest price we can remember on such a market.
Smith is a freak. And his sequence of runscoring in this contest (both innings) - 144, 142, 92, 211, 82 - is exactly that. At some stage, Smith will have to return to the mean in game five at The Oval. Won't he? The two-year data says he should be more like 13/8.
There is a problem with such thinking, though. The more relevant filters you include, the more one wonders whether that it's not such a bad bet after all. Although this column stands and falls on two-year stats only, if we take Smith's performances against only England since he converted from all-rounder to specialist batsman, his record is, well, freakish. He now has 10 wins in 18, which is more like 4/5. His record at The Oval is also notable. Smith has batted three times and made two centuries - 138 and 143.
Bettors may find themselves in a psychological vice with such a wager, sparked by the mistrust of bookmakers who, now and then, might artificially shorten a over-performing player because they know he or she will attract most money.
On the one hand the recent data says it's a bet. But there's a nagging thought that Smith is human. Humans make mistakes. And surely Smith is well overdue a mistimed drive, misplaced front foot at some stage? Maybe one of England's bowlers is overdue producing a superb delivery.
Perhaps their fury, or confusion, is scrambling their radar. It is a wonder as to how Smith so consistently goes big because of his bizarre method. It is true that when the ball is delivered Smith's head is perfectly still and so is his body. But, there are times when - particularly at Old Trafford - the bat is so far away from the body with the cover drive that he loses balance, or the head falls over. His eye must be superior to Superman, whose vision was so hot he could see over oceans, time and space.
England could start with taking 'eye' out of the equation. Patience is required. Graeme Swann is absolutely right in his analysis about how to bowl to Smith here. It is the same attack line, ball after ball, over after over. Dull but necessary.
Sportsbook go 5/6 over 125.5 Smith's player performance points (1 pt per run, 10 per catch, 20 per wicket). On career form, Smith averages 122 point per game. That includes his spell as an all-rounder. Take that burden away and the number goes through the roof to 131. Against England, not even including the two wickets he has taken against them when asked to bowl occasionally, Smith averages 136 per game.
Other prices worth examining under the same study rules are Sportsbook's 8/11 that Smith notches a first-innings fifty and 7/4 that he scores a ton. The former, believe it or not, is about right with Smith half-saluting 55% of the time. In contrast to the top-bat bet, the latter looks a good price. And the numbers back that up with Smith's ridiculous conversion rate.
In 55 first-innings Smith has made a century 22 times. That's 40%. On implied probability he should be slightly smaller than 7/4 with 6/4 a fairer reflection. The perplexity around a top-bat bet aside, Smith is value on the other side markets to go well.