Form points to Pietersen
Dave Tickner previews the fifth Ashes Test and fancies Kevin Pietersen to top-score for a beleaguered England side.
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England head to Sydney a broken and battered team looking to avoid their second 5-0 whitewash in three Ashes tours of Australia.
It looks a tall order. England got well ahead of the game in Melbourne, at one stage leading by 116 runs with all 10 second-innings wickets in hand. Barely a day later they had lost by eight wickets.
In many ways it was the most damaging, dispiriting defeat of the tour. England have been poor but ultimately shot down by Australia's brilliance in the first three Tests. At the MCG, they had the weapons but aimed them squarely at their own foot.
What that game did show, though, was a definite lessening of the intensity that saw Australia romp home in the first three Tests. They should still win this fifth game to complete the whitewash - if they can't get the job done themselves, it looks fair to assume England will help them out along the way.
But while pre-match prices around 4/6 for another Australian win look perfectly fair it may well pay to wait for a bigger price should the hosts make another relatively slow start. They traded at bigger than 4/1 before winning easily in Melbourne and, while I wouldn't recommend holding out for a price quite that big, I'd certainly be surprised if their price isn't significantly larger somewhere along the way. If you don't want to take that chance - or don't fancy staying up all night to pick your moment - then don't let me put you off 4/6 quotes which probably still underrate Australia's true chance of victory here given what we've seen.
My bet for this match, though, is for Kevin Pietersento be England's top batsman in the first innings at 7/2. He is a lightning-rod for criticism, but is the tourists' leading run-scorer in the series and in the last two Tests has looked much the best of their batsmen. Not high praise, admittedly, but his last five innings (most recent first) of 49, 71, 45, 19 and 53 point to a consistency unmatched by his colleagues. On which note, William Hill's 5/6 for Pietersen to score 30.5 or more is also a touch generous.
Had anyone been able to stay with him for any length of time in Melbourne, we may well be talking about a player with twin centuries. That's how well he was batting before - rightly or wrongly - he felt the need to slog when left with a tail that has not hung around for long at any stage of the series.
Pietersen's solid current form and his team-mates' woes are enough to convince me it's worth being a bit greedy and going for the top batsman market rather than his individual runs line. The 7/2 is widely available, but Paddy Power will double your odds if Pietersen scores a century in top-scoring so it makes sense to head there to place your bet.