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The Ashes preview

After the disappointing finale to the ICC Champions Trophy – with England losing to India by five runs in a rain-disturbed 20-over contest – our attention turns to the summer’s main event: The Ashes.

Holders and hosts England are 2/5 (Paddy Power) favourites to retain the Ashes, with the Aussies coming through a difficult period and having sacked coach Mickey Arthur after elimination from the Champions trophy. Darren Lehmann has been called on to lead the tourists after their recent ill discipline and run of poor form. Australia are 9/2 (various) for the series, while a first drawn series since 1972 is priced at 15/2 (Tote Sport).

England’s recent performances, though, have not been entirely convincing and a poor start to the warm-up match against Essex saw the top order batsman embarrassed before an inspired innings from Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann at the tail end - although injuries for the county side means the Test has lost its first-class status.

With England second in the official ICC Test Rankings, and Australia labouring in fourth, a 5-0 whitewash can be backed at 14/1 (Boyle Sport), while the same score in favour of the Aussies is as long as 300/1 (Spread Ex). Although, with the unpredictability of both teams, and the weather coming into consideration, better value can be found backing a 4-1 England victory at 12/1 (various) or even 3-2 at 18/1 (Spread Ex). A 3-1 home victory is shortest price 5/1 (Boylesports).

The big news around England’s team selection has been the decision, in the meantime at least, to stick with Joe Root as opening batsman alongside Alastair Cook rather than recalling Nick Compton, who scored two centuries against New Zealand back in March. Root can be backed at 8/1 (various) to be the top batsman of the series, while the returning Kevin Pietersen is 5/1 (Sky Bet).

England’s catalyst in recent months has been the steady, and at times underappreciated, Jonathan Trott, who is best priced at 8/1 (Bet 365) to score the most series runs, while captain Cook is the bookies favourite at 5/1 (various). In 2012 Australian Michael Clarke, their only real threat with a bat, became the first test batsman to score four double centuries in a calendar year, and he can be backed at 6/1 (Bet Victor) to be top scorer.

As for best bowler of the series, Jimmy Anderson can be backed to take the most wickets at a best price of 4/1 (Stan James and Paddy Power), with Stuart Broad and James Pattinson at 7/1 (Ladbrokes). If you fancy the spin, Monty Panesar is 33/1 (various).

The series begins on Wednesday 10 July at Trent Bridge, before moving on to Lords, Old Trafford and the Riverside Ground before concluding at The Oval on Sunday 25 August.

An Ashes scheduling shake-up means the players will compete again for the next series in Australia this November, just three months on from the upcoming one. This is to create a larger gap in the calendar that currently sees the series take place directly before or after the ICC Cricket World Cup. After these two though, the Ashes will return to its regular biennial intervals.

Bruce Archer
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