Prior looks sweet at 16s
Our Dave Tickner seeks out the value for the Ashes series, which starts on Wednesday, with Matt Prior leading his selections.
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After a weekend which saw the Lions seal victory in Australia, Chris Froome take charge of the Tour de France and Andy Murray finally end Britain's long wait for a men's singles champion at Wimbledon, the 2013 summer of sport is already doing a decent job of following the seemingly untoppable 2012 edition.
And the main attraction of the summer isn't even under way yet.
- 1pt Matt Prior to be top England batsman in the Ashes at 16/1 (Spreadex) - England's keeper now a hugely consistent runscorer and has taken the honours in two of last four series.
- 1.5pts Joe Root to score first England century of the Ashes at 6/1 (Paddy Power) - in-form opener will get first crack at this at a ground where rivals' record is relatively weak.
- 1.5pts Nathan Lyon to be top Australia bowler in the Ashes at 7/1 (Spreadex) - led the way in three of last four series, could sneak in again on spinning pitches if changes are made to pace attack during series.
- 3pts Lord's to be highest-scoring ground in the Ashes at 3/1 (bet365, Sky Bet) - Lord's and The Oval each average well over 100 runs more per Test in recent years than other three Ashes hosts.
- 3pts The Oval to be highest-scoring ground in the Ashes at 3/1 (Stan James, Ladbrokes) - See above.
That all changes on Wednesday, when the first Test of the Investec Ashes series gets under way at Trent Bridge with another famous victory for the home side looking very much on the cards.
England hold the urn after that unforgettable 3-1 victory Down Under in 2010/11 and are no bigger than 2/5 to keep hold of it by winning this five-match series on home soil.
It's a price for big-hitters only, but one that will have its backers due to the clear superiority of Alastair Cook's side in almost every department. On paper, only in pace-bowling depth can the Aussies compete with England.
But, of course, the game is not played on paper and Australia are not to be dismissed out of hand. While the timing of Mickey Arthur's departure was appalling and reflected the desperation surrounding the team, the arrival of Darren Lehmann as head coach may well have a galvanizing effect on a team that sorely needed it.
And if Michael Clarke's back holds out, and the Aussie pace attack performs at its peak, and Shane Watson learns how to make centuries, then the series could yet be a close one.
But those are some sizeable 'ifs', and I fully expect England to win the series. Equally, Australia's pace attack merits serious respect and, with England's batting line-up not quite operating at its 2011 peak in recent months, it's hard to see Australia failing to land a big punch somewhere along the way.
Certainly Australia to win at least one of the five Tests is not the worst 4/9 shot in the world, and in a series where bowlers may well hold sway for much of the time I would certainly steer you towards the likes of 3-1 (6/1), 4-1 (12/1), and 3-2 (18/1) England if you're looking for a correct series score wager.
Perhaps the best value anywhere in the series markets lies in the top England batsman, where Matt Prior looks overpriced at 16/1 with Spreadex.
We've backed Prior in these markets before on Betting Zone, and I'll make no apology for going in again. His record demands he be treated as a frontline batsman in this market - one he's landed in two of England's last four series - and that's just not the case with this price.
The market is understandably headed by the likes of Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, who have, along with Andrew Strauss and Prior, been the main players in this particular category for England over recent years.
But at the prices available, Prior is an easy selection. He took out this market in New Zealand over the winter and in the home series against South Africa last summer and scores runs so consistently now. He's passed 50 eight times in his last 20 Test innings and been dismissed for less than 20 just three times over that run.
With Australia's strength undoubtedly in their pace bowling, Prior should get sufficient chances to give us a run for our money and is the first name on the staking plan.
And talking of first, that takes us to another couple of novelty markets that might be of interest. BetVictor have priced up a market for who will score England's first six of the series. No prizes for guessing this is headed by Pietersen, who with 74 has three times as many sixes to his name in Test cricket as anyone else in the squad. What is surprising, though, is the fact that the man next on that list - Ian Bell with 24 - is down the list at 8/1, a bigger price than the likes of all-rounders Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad.
In a similar vein, Joe Root is too big at 6/1 with Paddy Power to score England's first century of the series. While his promotion to the top of the order means a step into the unknown for the Yorkshire star - at Test level anyway - it also gives him first crack at three figures along with 9/4 favourite Cook.
Root scored a century on his last Test appearance and has four hundreds in eight first-class innings this summer. With the first Test of the series taking place at Trent Bridge - where neither Cook nor Trott has even reached 50 - Root looks to have been under-rated here.
In the Australia batting markets, everything hinges on the state of Michael Clarke's back. He's the class batsman on either side here, and if his back holds out and he plays all five Tests then he's no 2/1 shot given the lack of quality elsewhere in Australia's top six. Indeed, Clarke has topped Australia's run charts in six of their last seven series.
But if you want to back Clarke's back, then I'd turn instead to the overall top series bat market where you can find a far more tempting price given the inevitable doubts about the Australia captain's involvement.
Again, you're trusting that he plays all five Tests, but 6/1 is a more than fair price to cover that uncertainty.
We've already mentioned the strength of Australia's pace bowling, but there is also fragility in there. It's highly unlikely that Australia will end the series with the same attack that started it, and I just wonder whether that will open the door for off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
While he is bound to come off second best in any comparison with Graeme Swann, Lyon is no fool and in his 22 Tests to date has put together an eminently respectable set of figures.
He took seven for 94 in his last Test appearance, has picked up wickets in every innings on tour so far, and has ended three of Australia's last four Test series as leading wicket-taker.
If the forecast is correct and the sun continues to shine on Nottingham and London, baking and drying the tracks at Trent Bridge and Lord's, then spin could have a huge part to play on helpful tracks and in conditions that will put plenty of strain on the quicker men.
Lyon can be backed at 7/1 to be Australia's top bowler and that looks to me at least a point too big, especially as England are likely to want turning tracks to help their own spinner.
Finally, I'll turn to the highest scoring ground market. The Oval and Lord's have both produced stacks of runs in recent years - each averaging over 1,100 runs per Test over the last five years. None of the other venues this year averages 1,000 for that period, while the two Tests at Old Trafford averaged only 874 runs each (although both those games were played before the square was rotated).
It seems clear that the highest-scoring ground will most likely be in London, where the ground stats and those of the individual England players all point to the likelihood of runs being scored.
The difficulty would come in deciding which of the two London grounds to opt for. Happily, though, there is no great need to do so; with both grounds available at 3/1 we can back both and get even money on what looks far better than a 50-50 chance.