Stalemate offers value
Having lost the Ashes England return to the Test arena this week - our Dave Tickner has his best bets for the series v Sri Lanka.
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Six months on from the trauma of their 5-0 Ashes thrashing in Australia, England return to Test action with a two-match series against Sri Lanka.
It's something of a step into the unknown for England, and not entirely in a good way. They have a formidable home record. In the last five years, they have won nine out of 10 Test series on home soil.
- 1pt England and Sri Lanka to draw 0-0 at 9/1 (Sky Bet) - Results may be hard to come by, with both sides looking stronger with bat than ball.
- 2pts Ian Bell to be top England series batsman at 3/1 (Paddy Power) - Batting average nudging 70 in last four years of home cricket. Superb last summer against Australia.
- 1pt Nuwan Kulasekara to be top Sri Lanka series bowler at 8/1 (Ladbrokes) - Standout price that just looks way too big for a bowler with attributes to succeed in England.
South Africa won 2-0 in 2012, but those are the only two home Tests England have lost since Pakistan won at The Oval in 2010. Over the last five years, England have won 21, drawn eight and lost only four of the 33 Tests in those 10 series.
But those successes were achieved by sides containing Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and - perhaps most significantly - Graeme Swann.
During the time he played Test cricket, no-one in the world picked up as many wickets as Swann's 255, and his combination of economy and wicket-taking threat allowed England to play a four-man attack behind six specialist batsmen and a keeper-batsman.
There is no spinner of anything approaching his quality available to England now, and his absence requires a shift in the balance of the side. Effectively it is taking two men to replace him.
Batting all-rounder Moeen Ali is the designated spinner in a side that will be packed with batting. Of the five pace bowlers competing for four spots, one has a Test century, two have first-class hundreds and another has a top score of 92. Only James Anderson is a true non-batsman.
If England use him as a nightwatchman, there emerges the very real prospect of Stuart Broad, with a Test best of 169, batting at number 11.
England's team will be solid and, in these conditions, devilishly hard to beat - especially for Sri Lanka who have not won a series away from home against top-eight opposition this century.
Alastair Cook's side, with all that batting depth, shouldn't - stress shouldn't - get beaten by this Sri Lanka attack. But do England, shorn of Swann's dual threat and in Pietersen their batsman most capable of breaking a game open, have enough to turn that resilience into victories? They look short at the prices.
The best outright bet given the series is only two matches long, both sides look stronger with bat than ball and the possibility of interruptions from the weather may well be Sky Bet's 9/1 for the series to end 0-0.
England only beat these opponents 1-0 on their last visit in a three-match series, and it needed an astonishing last-session collapse from Sri Lanka in Cardiff to lose the first Test in that campaign.
Elsewhere, Ian Bell looks the man to back in the top England series batsman market. His home record in recent years is outstanding; since the start of the 2010 summer he has scored 1981 runs at 68.31 in 22 matches. For comparison, captain Cook - like Bell a 3/1 chance - has scored only 1829 runs at 41.56 despite playing four more games.
England's 2013 Ashes victory last summer was almost entirely down to their bowlers; the rest of it was down to Bell, who made three centuries and two half-centuries to give his team just enough to get the job done. He scored over 200 runs more than his nearest challenger and no longer has to outscore such formidable foes as Trott and Pietersen.
One more bet that can't be passed up at the price is Ladbrokes' wild 8/1 for Nuwan Kulasekara to be the tourists' top bowler. He's better known as a one-day performer, and despite making his debut in 2005 has played only 20 Test matches.
But his accuracy and movement look well suited to English conditions and in a weak bowling attack he is surely no more than a 4/1 chance.