India set for ruthless victory
Dave Tickner isn't expecting England to enjoy much success in India and is backing the hosts to win the Test series to nil.
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For the second winter in a row, England find themselves facing the sort of tour on which they have historically struggled.
Last winter, England were whitewashed 3-0 by Pakistan in the UAE and scrambled an unconvincing 1-1 draw against a fast-fading Sri Lanka.
Now things get tougher still.
Having won the Ashes Down Under in 2010/11, success in India must now be considered the greatest hurdle for England to overcome.
And it will be tougher than that 2010/11 mission. This is an England side perfectly suited to Australian conditions at a time when the Baggy Green's aura is not what it was.
Tall fast bowlers, mastery of swing both orthodox and reverse, and a crop of batsmen who enjoy facing quick bowling on true pitches.
Very little of that applies to any great extent in India. Worse still, England have a side now short on experience in these conditions.
Andrew Strauss was a superb leader of this side, taking them to the top of the world rankings with his calm, understated leadership. That will be missed here, but so too will his batting. For a man not renowned as a player of spin, his record in India is a fine one: three Test centuries and that outrageous hundred against the hosts in the last World Cup - an innings worthy of consideration as the finest ever played by an Englishman in ODI cricket.
His replacement, Alastair Cook, has made runs here as have Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. But none of them have records here to match their career marks and behind them the drop-off in experience is marked.
And there are doubts about that experienced trio: Cook now has the added burden of full-time leadership, Pietersen is back in the side after his 'reintegration', and Bell has been short of his best form for a while now and will miss at least one Test to attend the birth of his child.
Nick Compton will debut at the top of the innings, while Jonathan Trott will surely perform admirably enough at three but seems to have recently lost the knack for turning solid starts into big hundreds.
These were the reasons we made an early decision to back Samit Patel in the top England runscorer market each-way at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
The early call was justified: having followed up a century in the opening tour match with two 50s, that price has gone. But those who missed the boat can still get an each-way bet at 20s with sportingbet (albeit paying only 1/5 odds for the top three rather than Ladbrokes' 1/4).
It remains an insulting price for an in-form top-six batsman and one well worth taking considering it's bigger than those available for Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan (and the same as Joe Root) who will start the series on the sidelines.
The good news for England is that all their Test top seven have made some runs on this tour; the bad news is that all three tour matches have been played on greentops against almost entirely spin-free bowling attacks so their relevance to a dustbowl Test series against spin-heavy attacks is at best dubious.
England also have problems on the bowling front. Their strategy is clear: Graeme Swann will be the frontline spinner, assisted by Patel, with three fast bowlers making up the attack.
Clearly, seam bowling is England's strength and they are right to stick with it. But on flat, lifeless pitches, they would have been counting on the extra height of Steve Finn and Stuart Broad to extract something from the surface.
Both have been hit by injuries in the build-up. It appears Broad will play in the first Test, but his preparation has been far from ideal. Finn is set to miss out. Tim Bresnan is the favourite to replace him and is a reliable performer who may get some joy with reverse swing. But it is a blow.
Next we must look at England's record in India, which is wretched. Since winning the 1984/5 series, England have won just one of 12 matches here, losing three series to nil and sharing one 1-1.
India, meanwhile, have a formidable home record. They have won 10 and drawn four of the 14 series since they went down 2-1 to an all-time-great Australia side in 2004.
Since England's 1-1 draw in 2005/6, only South Africa (twice) have avoided defeat here or even managed to win a Test.
The other eight series - featuring high-calibre opponents such as England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia - have been won 'to nil' by the hosts.
Five of those series have ended 2-0, an outcome that can be backed at 11/2 here. It looks a fair price, but with most of those series being two or three-match affairs, it's perhaps just too much of a step into the unknown in a four-Test rubber.
We'll play safer. India's eight series wins here have been to nil. England have won only one Test in 12 here, losing three of the four series to nil, and have a poor overall record in the sub-continent.
India are 4/7 to win the series (a perfectly fair price for big-hitters) but can be backed at odds-against (11/10 with bet365) giving up a 1.5 match start.
But we think we can do better. For India to cover the handicap, they must win 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 or 3-1.
Given we don't expect England to win a Test, we'll exchange that 3-1 for the 1-0 to create an Indian 'win to nil' bet; dutching the four 'to nil' India wins boosts our bet on India to 11/8 which looks a big price given the formlines and outright prices.
There is one other bet we like in one of the special markets, where the layers appear to have made an error.
Graeme Swann has 192 Test wickets to his name, and Stan James are betting on the identity of Test scalp number 200.
Needing just two wickets per Test, it's almost certain Swann will reach the landmark during this series, but eight wickets is a sufficient number to make trying to guess the point in an innings where he might find himself on 199 wickets futile.
Therefore the landmark victim could be found anywhere in the batting order.
So let's start drilling down Swann's career stats to find a contender whose price doesn't match the probability.
Of Swann's 196 wickets, 92 - exactly half - have been left-handers, at an average of 25 compared to 35 for his 92 right-handed victims.
And despite being a spinner and generally having to wait for his chance, Swann takes his fair share of top-order wickets. Opening batsmen account for 31 of his Test wickets; 26 of those 31 being left-handed.
That means 1 in 7.38 of Swann's Test wickets have been left-handed opening batsman. In Asia, the figure is higher still: eight left-handed openers in 53 wickets - 1 in 6.63.
These are numbers that suggest a left-handed opening batsman should be about 5/1 in this market.
But what about a left-handed opening batsman that Swann dismissed three times in four innings during the 2008 series, and then dismissed two more times (albeit when he was batting down the order) in England last year?
With a batsman like that - left-handed and with previous struggles against Swann - you can be sure that he need not survive long against the new ball before England turn to their spinner.
What price for a candidate like that?
The batsman is Gautam Gambhir and, according to Stan James, the price is 12/1. Get on.