World Cup Preview: Group B

Image

Will Spain be able to defend their World Cup title in Brazil this summer?

Following our preview for Group A which we released on Tuesday, here is Fred Stanley Sport‘s look at Group B at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. We’ll look at all four teams in the group, plus list all the fixture details you’ll need as you settle in to watch the world’s biggest carnival of football.

Spain

Best Finish – Winners (2010)

Odds – 13/2

It’s been well documented that a European side has never won the World Cup in South America, but if that trend is to be broken this summer then it will likely be the defending champions Spain who will break the mould. The 2010 winners still posses an embarrassment of riches in comparison to most nations, however with players such as Xavi, Fernando Torres and Ilker Casillas all past their best the other country’s competing in Brazil will fancy their chances of knocking Spain off their perch. Athletico Madrid forward Diego Costa is an injury doubt which could lead manager Vincent Del Bosque to use the same “false nine” formation that was so successful at Euro 2012. Should he do so the midfielders will be expected to pick up the goalscoring slack, with diminutive Manchester City playmaker David Silva likely to be a crucial part of the unit. Silva has so far enjoyed a fantastic 2014 and if he can reproduce his club form in Brazil the Spanish will almost certainly be there or there about’s come July.

Netherlands

Best Finish – Runners Up (1974, 1978, 2010)

Odds – 33/1

Ironically, Group B will pit Spain against the team they defeated in the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa, the Netherlands. Unfortunately for the Dutch they may have fallen even farther than their opponents four years ago, and it would be a shock indeed if they were to make it back to the final. They still possess a number of talented players, not least Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie, but Van Persie’s injury struggles last season and the aging core including Nigel De Jong and Arjen Robben will make it extremely difficult for Louis Van Gaal’s men to succeed in the searing South American heat. Robben can still give any full back in world football a torrid time and if Van Persie somehow returns to his 2012 performance level then the Dutch will remain a difficult encounter for anyone in the tournament’s knock out stages.

Chile

Best Finish – Third Place (1962)

Odds – 50/1

The presence of Chile in Group B has the potential to threaten both Spain and the Netherlands passage to the last 16, not least because of their highly talented forward Alexis Sanchez. Barcelona man Sanchez has big game pedigree and he’s surrounded by a number of stars who ply their trade in Europe’s most competitive leagues, including Gary Medel (Cardiff City) and Arturo Vidal (Juventus). The Chileans victory over England at Wembley last Autumn sent a warning to their Group B opponents, who will have to be at their best to avoid an upset against the South Americans, who are sure to embrace playing their matches in a climate similar to their own.

Australia

Best Finish – Last 16 (2006)

Odds – 1500/1

The ‘Socceroos’ are set to compete in their third consecutive World Cup, marking their emergence on the world stage having previously only appeared in the 1974 edition of the tournament. However Australia’s ‘golden generation’ featuring Premier League stars such as Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka have all now retired from international football and their remaining talent isn’t getting any younger either. Tim Cahill and captain Lucas Neill remain but the remainder of the squad is inexperienced and lacks the European pedigree of its predecessors. Being drawn in a difficult group won’t help the Australians either, but their grit and determination could still be enough to cause an upset or two in Brazil.

Fixtures

Spain v Netherlands -13th June, Salvador (20.00 GMT)

Chile v Australia – 13th June, Cuiaba (22.00 GMT)

Australia v Netherlands – 18th June, Porto Alegre (17.00 GMT)

Spain v Chile – 18th June, Rio De Janeiro (20.00 GMT)

Australia v Spain – 23rd June, Curitiba (17.00 GMT)

Netherlands v Chile – 23rd June, Sao Paulo (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will qualify from Group B? Could Spain fall at the first hurdle? Have your say in the comments  or by tweeting @fredjstanley

Advertisements

2013/14 Ashes Grades – Australia

Image

Australian captain and vice-captain Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin were central to the hosts 5-0 success

Following on from my slightly depressing grades for the 18 players who represented England during the Ashes tour from hell, here are my marks for the victorious Australian eleven who earned the nickname ‘The Unchangeables’ after the hosts named the same team for each of the five test matches.

Chris Rogers – B+

For a man who only last year was recalled from the international wilderness Rogers rise has been remarkable as he’s become one of the cornerstones of this Australian side. His grit and determination resemble that of Justin Langer, one of his predecessors at the top of the Australian order, and after compiling two centuries, three fifties and an average of 46.30 (all without hitting a single six) Rogers can be satisfied that he made the most of his first home Ashes series. Despite battling age (he’s 36) the left-hander looks set to tour tour South Africa this spring.

David Warner – A

After his summer swing at Joe Root Warner was described as a ‘bully’ by many members of the press, a description that aptly fitted his batting after he repeatedly mauled the England attack during the 5-0 whitewash. Not only did Warner strike two tons at a lofty average of 58.11 he did so with a strike rate of 74.39, indicating the savageness of his assaults. He may not have the tightest technique for an opening batsman but Warner’s pure aggression enables him to take advantage the minute the opposition show any sign of weakness, not in a dissimilar manner to the way Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater operated in their pomp.

Shane Watson – C+

George Bailey aside, Watson had the lowest average of the Australian top seven although he did notch one century and score at over 64 runs per hundred balls. While he wasn’t as dominant as Warner or obdurate as Rogers Watson still played his part at number three, a position which has caused the Aussies headaches since the retirement of Ricky Ponting. ‘Watto’s’ bowling was as useful and economical as ever however he was unable to bowl more than 47.4 overs during the series thanks to a number of muscular aches and pains.

Michael Clarke – A-

‘Pup’ failed to score as many runs as he’d have perhaps liked during the series but he gets a high mark for his leadership alone. Even while the Aussies were losing in India and England last year Clarke received praise for his positive captaincy and imaginative approach to bowling changes and field placings, qualities that helped the team finally win a test match in 2013 at the Gabba before going on to dominate England in the final four games of the series for good measure. Clarke’s high profile run in with James Anderson may have attracted some negative press from the English media but make no mistake about it – Clarke’s teammates love playing for him and the Australian public love the aggressive brand of cricket his team are currently playing.

Steve Smith – B-

After the summer series I stated my opinion that Smith is the heir apparent to the Australian captaincy and his exploits this winter have done nothing to change my mind. An absolutely outstanding fielder, Smith has developed with the bat to the point where he can be legitimately called a test number five. Though unorthodox his stroke play is expansive and Smith has such a wide range of shots that he’s almost impossible to tie down for long periods. Two centuries at an average of 40, including a series clinching ton in Perth, well and truly announced Smith to the world stage.

George Bailey – C-

If not for some spectacular catches taken at short leg Bailey would have earned a D, however he had such an impact in the field and was brought into play on so many occasions by the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson and sharp turn of Nathan Lyon that it was impossible to ignore Bailey’s impact under the lid. Unfortunately for Australia’s T20 captain he failed more often than not with the bat and Bailey stands a good chance of missing out on the test tour to South Africa as a result. If he is dropped at least Bailey will always have the world record equaling over off James Anderson when he crashed 28 runs including three sixes, two fours and a two.

Brad Haddin – A+

For my money the man of the series, Haddin time and time rescued Australia with the bat. In stark contrast to his opposite number Matt Prior the Australian vice-captain was able to counter attack effectively by playing a brand of simple and aggressive cricket which left the England players flustered. Although Haddin only passed three figures once he reached fifty on five other occasions and his final average of 61.62 was outstanding, particularly when you consider he was never unbeaten at the end of an innings. His glove-work was also quietly flawless and wrapped up a fine year for the ‘keeper, who recorded a world record number of victims in England during the summer series.

Mitchell Johnson – A+

Johnson came into the series with a reputation as a wayward bowler with a slingy action who couldn’t withstand pressure. He left it as arguably the worlds premier fast bowler and unarguably the world most frightening paceman. His accuracy improved, Johnson unleashed a barrage of threatening bouncers and toe crunching yorkers, taking wickets with both and sending England batsman crawling back into their shells. Statistics can often tell the story and while they help demonstrate Johnson’s dominance they don’t explain just how afraid the England batsmen were of his 90 MPH plus pace and how he got inside their heads. Mitch also averaged 27 with the bat and while he isn’t quite a genuine all-rounder he isn’t a million miles off earning that distinction.

Ryan Harris – A+

While Johnson was England’s chief tormenter Harris wasn’t far behind and the oft-injured fast bowler certainly had the measure of visiting skipper Alistair Cook. 22 wickets at 19.31 tell represent a fine haul and his unnerving accuracy was the perfect compliment to Johnson’s hostility. If, and it remains a big if, Harris can stay fit he has a chance to become the best bowler in the world over the next twelve months.

Peter Siddle – B+

Siddle didn’t quite rack up the same amount of wickets as Johnson or even Harris but he had a profound impact on the series nonetheless by continuing to take Kevin Pietersen’s wicket. Additionally Siddle had the best economy rate of any Australian bowler, helping to maintain pressure on the English batsmen even when he wasn’t taking wickets. An underrated an valuable part of the set-up, Siddle promises to remain integral to Darren Lehmann’s plans going forward.

Nathan Lyon – B

He may be no Shane Warne but Lyon is probably the best spinner Australia have had since the famous leggie retired from test cricket in 2007. Lyon gained surprising levels of turn and bounce on relatively unresponsive surfaces and his 19 wickets complimented the pace attack nicely. He also went the entire series without being dismissed, putting the England batsmen to shame as he withstood more than a few short pitched assaults from the visiting attack.

Have your say on the ratings in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

Australia v England – Fourth Ashes Test Preview

Image

A capacity crowd of 90,000 people is expected at the MCG for the first day of the Boxing Day test

Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground (Victoria)

Date: 26-30 December 2013

Time: 23:30 (GMT)

The Ashes may have already gone at the earliest opportunity but there’s still plenty to play for between these great rivals. Since the third test at Perth Graeme Swann has retired from all forms of cricket and with the series decided England may well take the opportunity to ‘retire’ some other senior players as they look towards the future. Australia meanwhile will be going all out to whitewash the visitors in a similar manner to the great side of 2006/7, adding to the intrigue during the final two tests of the series. With 90,000 spectators likely to be crammed into the famous MCG the atmosphere promises to be electric during one of the biggest dates in the cricket calendar offering the perfect stage for any of the 22 cricketers on display to make a name for themselves. With speculation rife regarding a number of the England teams future there’s a strong possibility that some of them could very well be playing for their international careers over the next five days.

Team News

Australia look set to name an unchanged side for the fourth successive test, a far cry from the chopping and changing of the summer series. Michael Clarke’s back and Ryan Harris’s knees have held up well so far and as Clarke pursues history there’s no chance that him and coach Darren Lehmann will take their foot off the gas.

Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England have once again been forced into making at least once change after Graeme Swann’s shock retirement, with Monty Panesar likely to replace him in the XI. Scott Borthwick and James Tredwell may come into contention for the spinners role at Sydney but for this test at least Panesar has the chance to re-establish himself as the visitors lead tweaker. Wicket keeper Matt Prior looks set to make way for Jonny Bairstow as Andy Flower looks towards the future while Boyd Rankin could make his test debut at the expense of Tim Bresnan, who appeared to be below his best at the WACA. Stuart Broad has overcome his foot injury and the likes of Kevin Pieterson and James Anderson have avoided the same treatment as Prior so they’ll keep their places in the team.

Likely team: Cook (c), Carberry, Bell, Pieterson, Root, Stokes, Bairstow (wk), Broad, Anderson, Rankin, Panesar

Pitch and weather

The second drop in surface of the series promises to offer early assistance to the seam bowlers before flattening out as the match wears on. Large boundary dimensions make the ‘G a difficult ground to take the slow bowlers on but with the wicket offering little turn it’ll still be tough for Panesar and Australian spinner Nathan Lyon to get much out of the surface.

There’s a slight chance of showers on the second day but apart from that the weather is set fair and a full compliment of overs should be completed during the five days. Temperatures on the Saturday could reach a scorching 36 degrees Celsius.

Umpires

Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena

Prediction

Following one of the most lopsided three game stretches in recent memory it will take a minor Christmas miracle for England to turn this series around and repeat their Boxing Day success from three years ago. The task will prove especially difficult without Swann but there’s a fantastic opportunity for the likes of Monty Panesar and Jonny Bairstow to cement a place in the team for the fifth test and beyond. Australian teams are famously ruthless and having smelt English blood Michael Clarke will want to be part of the second Ashes whitewash during his storied career. Unfortunately I fear that the visitors are in such disarray that there’s little they can do to bounce back during this series, especially without team mainstays such as Swann and Prior in the lineup. As a result I fully expect Australia to make it 4-0 and edge ever closer to a dreaded whitewash.

Australia v England – Third Ashes Test Match Preview

Image

Mitchell Johnson ran riot at the WACA during the 2010/11 Ashes series against England

Venue: Western Australian Cricket Association (Western Australia)

Date: 13-17 December 2013

Time: 03:00 (GMT)

It’s now or never for England in this Ashes series with Alistair Cook knowing a third consecutive loss will see Australia regain the urn at the earliest stage possible. After a second battering in a row in Adelaide on a slow drop-in wicket the technique of England’s batsmen against the short ball will be tested more than ever on a rapid WACA wicket, traditionally regarded as the fastest pitch in world cricket. Mitchell Johnson starred here in 2010 despite having an otherwise ordinary series, an ominous sign for England with the form the left-arm fast bowler currently finds himself in. Cook and Australian captain Michael Clarke both reach 100 test caps in this test, a fine achievement by any measure but one that Clarke will be able to savour more than his English counterpart. Wicket keeper Matt Prior produced some fighting talk at yesterdays press conference but it’ll be actions rather than words that will turn this series around for the visitors. One small positive that coach Andy Flower can draw upon is the good performances from Gary Ballance, Sam Robson, Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills for the England Performance Program during their recent three-day game against a Western Australia second XI. Whether or not any of those get a chance to star for the test side during the tour remains to be seen.

Team News

Australia are once again likely to name an unchanged side. Ryan Harris has struggled slightly with some knee inflammation but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for the fast bowler and it would be a shock if he was unable to play with the Ashes so close to being regained. James Faulkner suffered a broken thumb in the nets yesterday which means that he may not be fit for the rest of the series, so Doug Bollinger and Nathan Coulter-Nile are next in line for a fast bowling spot should Harris go down.

Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England face a similar dilemma to the one they encountered in Adelaide, where they had a number of selection options with none of them entirely satisfactory. Many pundits claim that consistency of selection is a key part of creating a winning environment, yet recent history would appear to tell us that a settled side is often a product of a success and not the other way round. England’s top five should remain intact although Ben Stokes could be dropped after just one test, making way for the uncapped Yorkshireman Gary Ballance. Another alternative is for the visitors to bat wicket keeper Matt Prior at six with Tim Bresnan filling the all-rounders role at seven. Although it’s unclear where he’ll bat Bresnan is a certainty to play his first test of the series, with Monty Panesar equally likely to miss out after playing in Adelaide. England’s other spinner Graeme Swann may also be left out if Cook and Andy Flower opt to field an all pace attack but that would mean including the out-of-favour Steven Finn or the uncapped Boyd Rankin. Essex’s Tymal Mills has been touted as a potential shock inclusion due to his raw pace but it would be incredibly out of character for Cook and Flower to make such a bold move.

Likely team: Cook (c), Carberry, Root, Pieterson, Bell, Stokes, Prior (wk), Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson

Pitch and weather

After a fairly docile drop in surface was prepared for Adelaide the WACA in Perth should provide plenty of pace and bounce for the fast bowlers. Reports have suggested that there’s also a fairly significant covering of grass on the wicket which should encourage the bowlers even further.

Forecasts indicate that all five days of the test will be sweltering, with temperatures reaching up to 39 Celsius. There will almost certainly be no rain which makes a result likely.

Umpires

Marias Erasmus and Billy Bowden

Prediction

After predicting draws in both of the first two tests I won’t make the same mistake thrice. Australia’s dominance has been overwhelming and when the Aussies get on top they don’t let up, either on the field or off it. With Perth also being one of Mitchell Johnson’s favourite hunting grounds the signs aren’t promising for Cook’s England, who despite delivering some fighting talk in the pre-match build-up have yet to do anything with the bat to convince me that they can stand up to Johnson and Ryan Harris on such a lethal surface. I don’t think England will crumble in quite as spectacular fashion as they have in the previous two games, but I also don’t think they have enough in the tank to prevent an Australian win and hold on to the famous urn.

Australia V England – 2nd Ashes Test Match Preview

Image

The famous scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval

Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide (South Australia)

Date: 4-8 December 2013

Time: Midnight (GMT)

Following England’s first test humiliation at the Gabba the three lions head to Adelaide looking to bounce back after a brief stopover in Alice Springs. Since that disastrous opening act in this Ashes series Jonathan Trott has of course gone home with a stress related illness while the hosts have promised to maintain their verbally aggressive approach on the pitch. While the negatives have outweighed the positives so far for England Andy Flower will be pleased that Tim Bresnan came through an England Lions game unscathed and the Yorkshireman looks ready to come into the side for the second test if selected. After his strong showing in the first test Stuart Broad has largely escaped the media criticism that greeted him upon his arrival down under, however along with Kevin Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow he was photographed enjoying a few beers on night out earlier this week. The ECB have since said that the trio broke no team rules so while it’s essentially a non-story that hasn’t stopped the vulture-like Australian press seizing the opportunity to pile even more pressure on the hated ‘poms’.

Team News

Australia are in the envious position of not needing to make any changes for this test thanks to both a clean bill of health and a near perfect performance in Brisbane. They did dabble with the idea of including all-rounder James Faulkner as a fifth bowling option but decided against it, which means specialist batsman and limited-overs captain George Bailey keeps his spot at six in the batting order. One boost the selectors and captain Michael Clarke received this week was the news that Shane Watson is ready to fulfill his bowling duties after taking on a lighter role with the ball during the first test. Steve Smith also offers Clarke an option with his occasional leg spin so the Aussies should have no shortage of bowling options even if they’re made to toil in the field.

Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England have a much murkier selection picture, with at least one change necessary thanks to Trott’s departure. Chris Tremlett also looks certain to be replaced after a disappointing showing in the first test, even though his four wickets were as many as Graeme Swann and James Anderson managed between them. Tim Bresnan has been declared fit so he’s in the frame for selection, however England could opt for Monty Panesar as another spin option after recent Sheffield Shield matches on the Oval’s new drop in surface suggest that the pitch is more conducive to turn than it is seam. Should Panesar get the nod then Ben Stokes could make his debut as a bowling all-rounder, offering England a promising yet raw pace option. However if Tremlett of Bresnan are selected ahead of Panesar then Gary Ballance, another uncapped player, will likely play at six as a direct replacement for Trott. Finally Joe Root appears to be the man chosen to assume Trott’s number three spot in the order.  If the situation sounds muddled that’s because it is, and I suspect Alistair Cook and Andy Flower are the only people who know what names England will reel off at the coin toss.

Likely team: Cook (c), Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Stokes, Prior (wk), Broad, Swann, Anderson, Panesar

Pitch and weather

Traditionally the wicket at the Adelaide Oval is an absolute road although it lacks the pace and bounce of the strips in Brisbane and Perth. Paul Collingwood made a famous double century here in 2006 as England racked up 551-6 declared (and lost), while three years ago Kevin Pietersen made a double ton of his own as England won by an innings. The new drop-in surface has so far played very similarly to previous incarnations of the pitch with runs galore and wickets in short supply. However over fifty percent of dismissals at the venue this season have been recorded by spinners, a sharp increase from just over a twenty five percent last year.

As far as the weather is concerned there are varying forecasts available for each of the tests five days. Light rain showers could arrive tonight and over the weekend, potentially taking time out of the game. Temperatures in the city have been unseasonably cool in recent days but are set to rise during the course of the test.

Umpires

Marias Erasmus and Kumar Dharmasena

Prediction

Australia have their tails up while England have a multitude of questions to answer following a nightmare first test, which in usual circumstances would make a home win the sensible bet. However with rain in the forecast and a flat wicket in store there’s a strong possibility that this test could end in a draw – if England raise their game with the bat. A top seven containing Michael Carberry, Gary Ballance or Ben Stokes and an out of form Matt Prior is anything but solid, yet if the core of Cook, Pietersen and Bell perform as they have in the past then the more peripheral players shortcomings will become less terminal. A slow surface should help those players feel more at home against the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson and the unerring accuracy of Ryan Harris; as a result I have confidence that England can post a sizable first innings total and claim a draw to keep within touching distance ahead of the final three tests.

Australia V England – 1st Ashes Test Match Preview

Image

The Gabba is the scene of the first Ashes test between Australia and England

Venue: Gabba, Brisbane (Queensland)

Date: 21-25 November 2013

Time: Midnight (GMT)

One of the cricket’s great theaters is the scene for the first Ashes test match of the southern hemisphere summer, where actions will finally supplant words. Three years ago Peter Siddle set the series alight on the first day with a rare Ashes hat-trick, and while the odds are against him repeating the trick this time around the contest should still be a memorable one. Michael Clarke will be out for revenge after suffering a 3-0 reverse during the summer, while Alistair Cook knows that an England win will cement his place in three lions history after just twelve months in charge. The stage is set, the phony war is over and the Barmy Army have touched down in Brisbane. Whether they have anything to cheer remains to be seen.

Team News

Australia will be pleased to have some semblance of stability heading into the series, a far cry from the mess they found themselves in before the return series in England earlier this year. With Darren Lehmann well entrenched as coach, not to mention well liked by the players, the uncertainty that followed Mickey Arthur’s sacking is a thing of the past. David Warner is certain to open the batting alongside Chris Rogers, something he was unable to do for the first two tests of the summer after he was suspended following the Walkabout incident involving England’s Joe Root. Shane Watson will bat at three although concerns remain over his ability to bowl owing to a hamstring strain. Further down the lineup Twenty20 captain George Bailey looks likely to make his test debut at number six. Mitchell Johnson will lead the Australian attack despite being dropped for last summer’s series, while Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris will join him in the pace attack. The only decision to be made is between spinner Nathan Lyon and fast bowling all-rounder James Faulkner. While it would be a surprise to see the hosts enter the game without a front-line spinner Steve Smith can turn his arm over and if Watson is deemed not fit enough to bowl left-armer Faulkner could be included as a fourth seam option.

Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England have a few more selection headaches heading into the opening test down under than they did in 2010/11, when they were so settled they were able to send their first choice bowling attack ahead to Brisbane a week before the test began. On this occasion the identity of the third seamer behind James Anderson and Stuart Broad remains a mystery, with Chris Tremlett the slight favourite to beat Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn to the role. Matt Prior remains questionable with an injured calf, but having come through three straight training sessions unscathed he looks likely to play ahead of his understudy Jonny Bairtstow. Joe Root will drop down to six to accommodate Hampshire’s Michael Carberry, who’ll add to the solitary test cap he picked up in Bangladesh back in early 2010.

Pitch and weather

All of the talk coming out of the Australian camp is of a quick and bouncy wicket at the Gabba. After the docile surfaces prepared in England this summer a substantial layer of grass is also likely to be left on the pitch to help assist Australia’s seam bowlers, which should encourage a result. Nonetheless the pitch won’t differ too much from a typical Gabba wicket, meaning whoever wins the toss would be wise to bat first (I’ll resist making a Nasser Hussain joke here).

The weather forecast looks mixed for the test, with the first day set to provide plenty of sun and temperatures of up to 28c before the weather progressively cools through to Sunday when there’s a chance of tropical showers. Thankfully the Gabba, like most grounds in Australia, has a fantastic drainage system to enable sports such as rugby and Aussie Rules to be played on a lush outfield and delays should be reduced to a minimum.

Umpires

Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena (third umpire Marais Erasmus)

Prediction

Although England are on paper the stronger team and favourites they have started recent series in notoriously slow fashion. A flat if slightly sporting wicket should aid the batsman once the shine wears off the Kookaburra ball, and combined with some time likely being lost to rain a draw is probably the early favourite for this test. However that can all change with a brilliant spell from one of either sides bowlers, of which the likes of Stuart Broad and Mitchell Johnson are more than capable. This helps to make this one of the more unpredictable series in recent memory.

Can Captain Cook Retain the Urn Down Under? A 2013/14 Ashes Betting Preview

Image

All eyes will be on England skipper Alistair Cook as he attempts to retain the Ashes down under this winter

Following a highly contentious summer Ashes series where old enemies England and Australia bickered over DRS, the spirit of cricket and everything in between the two sides go head to head in the return series starting this Wednesday. The mind games have already begun, with Australian skipper Michael Clarke making like Jose Mourinho during a recent press conference and naming the eleven players that he thinks will take the field for the visitors at the Gabba next week. His counterpart Alistair Cook has come in for criticism over his captaincy style since the conclusion of the summer series, most notably from Aussie leg-spinning great Shane Warne, but after a record breaking tour with the bat in 2010/11 the opening batsman will be confident that his team can retain the little urn having won 3-0 in familiar conditions just a few months ago. As ever when these two countries lock horns tension runs high and the competitive juices flow and if you fancy a flutter on the Aussies avenging last summers defeat or Cooks men conquering the ancestral convicts then look no further than this comprehensive Ashes betting guide.

With the willow in hand Australia have struggled mightily since the retirements of Ricky Ponting an Michael Husssey, though Clarke remains a world class presence in the middle order. He’s 5/2 to lead the hosts run charts with a number of bookmakers, including Coral and Bet Victor. The rest of the Australian squad should enjoy more success at home than they did over the summer, with the in-form David Warner a solid outside bet at 5/1 with Bet Fred and others.

Similarly to the Aussies England’s best batsman, at least statistically, is their captain Alistair Cook. However the controversial Kevin Pietersen always fares well against England’s great rivals, and at 7/2 with Bet Victor he represents good value in the leading English batsman market. Other options include Ian Bell, who had a magnificent home series, and Jonathan Trott who didn’t quite fare so well. Although Bell would appear to be in better form that Trott the latter had a sensational trip in 2010/11 and generally scores well on fast, bouncy wickets like the ones he’s likely to see down under. Bet Victor are again offering the best odds of 9/2 on the South African-born batsman leading the way for England.

In the bowling department Australia’s Ryan Harris led the way during the summer, but his inability to stay fit for five tests is a major concern and it’s unlikely he’ll last the duration this winter. Peter Siddle is more durable and can be dangerous in bursts, such as his opening day hat-trick in the first test three years ago. There hasn’t been a more consistent Australian bowler than Siddle since the likes of Glenn McGrath, and you can get on him at 3/1 with Bet Victor.

For England Jimmy Anderson remains the leader of the attack, and with good reason as he approaches Ian Botham’s record wicket taking haul for the poms. He’s 9/4 with Sporting Bet to once again fly the flag for Queen and country, dismissing a bucket-load of Aussies in the process. Graeme Swann is the other mainstay of the England attack and although he has suffered elbow discomfort in recent years he should make it through all five tests and if he does at 4/1 (Stan James) he should run the “Burnley Express” close.

So far as the overall result is concerned England will enter the series as strong favourites having won three Ashes in a row and four of the last five (the less said about 2006/7 the better). Yet Australia are confident, with good reason, that they can end that streak on home turf during these five games. With doubts over the fitness of Pietersen and especially wicket keeper Matt Prior England aren’t in as good shape as they might have wanted heading into the opening test, and a fast start by the hosts could give them the confidence they need to press home the advantage over the course of the series. I’m plumping for an Australia series win (7/4, Stan James), but it would by no means shock me if England managed to regain the urn and they’re 23/20 at Boyle Sports to bring the famous trophy back with them in January.
Prediction: Australia 2-1 (12/1, Stan James)
Odds on all of these markets plus many more can be found at Oddschecker.com