Ed Hawkins expects Birmingham to get their The Hundred campaign off to a fast start at Edgbaston on Friday...
"We think Reece is in line to open here so Sportsbook's 4/1 is worth a risk as they hold a different view"
Birmingham Phoenix v London Spirit
Friday 23 July, 18:30
TV: live on Sky Sports
Phoenix to rise
Birmingham are our selection for glory at 7/1 in the inaugural competition. They have superb balance between bat and ball.
Up front Liam Livingstone, Kiwi sensation Finn Allen and the dynamic Moeen Ali should do plenty of damage. But they really impress with what they could do in the field.
The prospect of Imran Tahir bowling ten consecutive balls is tantalising while Worcestershire pair Pat Brown and Dillon Pennington are Moneyball picks. Kiwi speedster Adam Milne should be thrilling to watch, too.
They have suffered a couple of injuries before their first game. Chris Woakes, who they would have expected to be without anyway, has an ankle injury. Adam Hose is out for the tournament with a foot injury. Young Warwickshire wicketkeeper Chris Benjamin comes in as a replacement for Hose and as back-up to Chris Cooke.
This suggests Phoenix will not use Allen as gloveman. Tom Abell is hoping to be fit to take his place in the middle-order.
Possible XI Livingstone, Allen, Moeen, Abell, Hammond, Cooke (wkt), Howell, Pennington, Milne, P Brown, Tahir
Tough call for Warne
Coach Shane Warne has an interesting conundrum ahead of their first game. Does he pick the three England players who will disappear after two games or go for an XI which will be available for the entire tournament?
Given that players will need as much time as possible to adjust to the new format it wouldn't be entirely surprising if Warne asked Zak Crawley, Dan Lawrence and Mark Wood to sit this one out. They certainly haven't shirked on batting power even without Crawley and Lawrence. Josh Inglis and Luis Reece could be a sensational opening pair. Eoin Morgan needs an upturn in fortune, though.
Although they impress with the bat, they look to be short on bowling talent. We're not convinced that post-Wood Mohammad Amir, Jade Dernbach and Chris Wood are going to worry batters. Roelf van der Merwe, Mohammad Nabi and Ravi Bopara taking pace off could be the best approach.
Possible XI Reece, Inglis (wkt), Denly, Morgan, Bopara, Nabi, Van der Merwe, C Wood, M Wood, Amir, Mason Crane
Of the tournament venues Edgbaston is the fourth-best for batting in terms of T20 run rate. In the last two years in T20 at the ground, the average run rate per ball has been 1.41. To put that in context The Oval is 1.3. With added intent in a shorter format (16.4 overs in old money) more than 150 should be in danger here, particularly if Phoenix bat first. With the Oval-Originals match as a guide, even money was available at 155 for the first innings. We'll have a small risk on that. Spirit, however, might be a short at 150 also at even money.
Phoenix a bet chasing at better odds
Birmingham Phoenix are 1.865/6 and Spirit 2.03. That is the sort of market we would have expected. Although we rate Phoenix as the superior team on paper we don't think we're confident enough to start taking such short odds.
Indeed, we suspect that will be a rule for the tournament: avoid odds-on. Instead we're more than happy to wait for 2.001/1 or better in-play. Bowling first, Phoenix could well drift with a few choice efforts from the Spirit batsmen. If the women's opener was anything to go by, the market could be all over the shop again. Reminder: we expect the chaser to dominate.
There's some value on the top Spirit batsman market. We think Reece is in line to open here so Sportsbook's 4/1 is worth a risk as they hold a different view. He struck at 170 for Derbyshire this season. Inglis, who will surely open, is 9/4. Reece should not be as far behind.
Allen is 11/4 favourite for Phoenix with Livingstone looking very chunky indeed at 10/3. Moeen is 7/2. We can expect that latter price to rise rapidly in-play. Allen is incredibly destructive (strike rate of 175 in T20) and won't need to hang around for Sportsbook's 5/1 about top match bat to look massive.
The Hundred Preview Part 2 on Cricket...Only Bettor
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. Includes Hawk-Eye column p-l