England v India Test Series Preview
The England v India Test series starts at Trent Bridge on Wednesday, so with two distinctly average sides…..who’s likely to come out on top?
England are so wary they are of losing they are almost petrified to try to win. Witness their negative tactics in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s and their subsequent slide to defeat from a position of strength at Headingley.
Of their last 35 matches in all formats, they have won nine and one of those was a one-day international against Scotland. It is no wonder Alastair Cook, their captain, appears to be in the grip of sport’s most suffocating vice: the breakdown.
Cook has lost confidence and judging by the way senior players walked on by rather than crossed the road to help a friend, much of the team, too. If teams play in the image of their leader then Cook’s average of 25 in the last 12 months paints a picture.
Ordinarily in such a situation the opponents would be considered stonking value. Unfortunately, punters are asked to trust India, the most wonderfully chaotic, compromised and classless of all sporting teams.
Usually pretty reliable at home, as soon as they leave the departure lounge they turn into blithering idiots who don’t know which end of the bat to hold.
Even their coach, Duncan Fletcher, cannot remember the last time his side took 20 wickets. Losses to South Africa and New Zealand away from home have lengthened an unedifying record of defeats on the road.
They have won only two of their last ten series away against ‘big eight’ opposition and have comfortably the worst win-loss ratio of any of the major sides on foreign soil.
So what to do when faced with two sides who are as bad as each other? The beauty of betting is that the odds become the judge, jury and executioner. They provide clarity where there is a suffocating, stupefying cloud of mediocrity and insecurity.
Try not to laugh….England are as skinny as 2.1 to win the series and avoid a fourth straight series defeat of the summer. India are 3.0 and the draw is 5.2.
Instinctively, you will feel that is a dreadful price about the home side. It’s a lot like going to the meat counter at Tesco and being asked to pay full price for a stringy cut which passed its sell-by date ages ago. ‘I’m not paying that’ you’ll say. Quite right too.
This does not automatically make India value. It is an irritating, but significant point, that just because England are a poor bet does not mean India are better than they are, although it is easier to back the tourists instead of Cook’s team.
For that we have to thank Sri Lanka. Like India, they too had an awful record away from home. They didn’t possess a bowling line-up which filled us with excitement, and batsmen conversely with dread, either.
So siding with MS Dhoni’s team is not the leap of faith it could have been had James Anderson managed to hang on at the death at Headingley.
Still, India’s foibles are significant and it is difficult not to reckon they should be bigger. Of course that makes no sense in the context of describing England as too short but this is what happens when you have two teams who have as many problems as each other. We are trying to decipher who will be worse, not better.
There will be much debate ahead of the first Test on Wednesday. England’s supporters will reckon that Anderson and Stuart Broad cannot be as wasteful again when faced with opposition who will find conditions alien. They will also point to the virulent new blood in the form of Sam Robson, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes.
India, of course, will reckon they have an edge because England have no spinner worthy of the name. The better drainage to the grounds has meant surfaces have least moisture than ever before. They will also argue that their batting is strong enough to allow them to play five bowlers.
That could well be the difference between the sides. India have packed the squad with fast men – learning their lesson from their whitewash in 2011 – which will allow them to call on decent reserves in a potentially arduous 42-day series.
It would be reasonable to expect a tight series and the correct score market offers potential value.
A 2-1 win for England and India is 7.0 and 10.0 respectively. Also, note the discrepancy between 2-2 and the draw price at 10.0.
The top series runscorer market is yet to mature, although Cheteshwar Pujara and Ian Bell would be our two favourites to enjoy an Indian summer.
The bottom line, however, is this: who do we trust least at the odds available. The answer is, unequivocally, England. But do bear in mind that doesn’t mean India will perform with the brilliance on a par with those white clothed folk at SW19.
Lay England to win the series at 2.12
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