Root can anchor England sweep
It's often easy to think that any England Test series is part of the countdown to the next Ashes campaign, so intense is the interest in taking on the old enemy.
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But with the Ashes double header now visible on the horizon, the countdown begins in earnest with the Test series in New Zealand.
The three-Test series is packed into three weeks in March, and I see absolutely no reason to put you off backing Alastair Cook's side to win this series 3-0 at bigger than 3/1.
Cook led England to an historic series victory in India before Christmas and, with the Aussies around the corner and the Essex opener's captaincy career still in its infancy, there seems no reason to expect complacency to creep in for this more straightforward assignment.
Before this tour, New Zealand would've been reasonably confident of nicking a win in one or both of the limited-overs series. They lost both and, by the end of the ODI series, already looked a broken side with little to look forward to over the month ahead.
The difficulty the New Zealand batsmen had in dealing with James Anderson and Steve Finn is unlikely to reduce in the longest form of the game, while injuries to Mitchell McClenaghan, Martin Guptill and Daniel Vettori have left the hosts weakened in all disciplines.
New Zealand have only two proven Test-class batsmen; one of them, Jesse Ryder, is still on sabbatical, and the other, Ross Taylor, is still feeling his way back into the side after an ugly dispute over the captaincy.
And the Black Caps' home record in Test cricket is shocking. They haven't won a Test series on home soil against anyone other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh since seeing off the West Indies in 2006.
They've lost their last three home series against Test-calibre opposition without winning a game and have won one, drawn eight and lost eight of 17 home Tests against non-minnows since winning the first Test against England in 2008. Four of those draws - including both stalemates in the 1-0 defeat to South Africa last year - were significantly curtailed by the weather.
In short, New Zealand lack both the bowling firepower to force victories against high-quality opposition and the batting depth to hold on for draws without assistance from the elements.
England have lost only one of their last six series away from home - that on neutral turf against Pakistan in the UAE - while winning three of their last five.
Their two most recent series victories away from home - in Australia and India - were against opposition far superior to that they'll encounter here.
With England's fit-and-firing bowling attack and run-hungry top seven, backing the tourists to sweep the series looks close to being a bet against the weather. That's admittedly a risk in New Zealand, but at the price available it's one that's well worth taking.
The other early price that can't be passed up is the 8/1 chalked up by Hills and Stan James for Joe Root to be England's top series runscorer.
It's early days in his international career, but not since Cook himself arrived on the scene with a sixty and a century on debut in 2006 has an England batsman looked so instantly made of the right stuff as the Yorkshireman.
He made 73 and 20 not out having forced his way into the side for the final Test in India and in six ODI innings to date his lowest score is 28 not out.
The comparisons with Cook are inevitable given the similarities in the mental strength of both men at a young age. Root certainly seems to share his captain's unquenchable thirst for runs, which is a key trait in any contender in the top-bat market.
But what gives the 8/1 real appeal is the potential for Root to move up the batting order. His chances for big scores against a limited attack may be reduced if he stays at number six, where he batted in India, meaning the price is merely a fair one; if he bats any higher it will look huge.
And there's every chance. Nick Compton didn't really do enough to nail down the opening berth in India. England see Root as a long-term option at the top of the order and are also keen to get his Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow into the team.
Certainly you get the sense England would rather have Root and Bairstow in their Ashes side than Compton and Root. This looks a great opportunity to allow such changes to bed in under less pressure against lesser opposition.
If Root bats at six, the sight of him at 8/1 on our coupon won't be a cause of regret. If he does open - and it's probably a better than even chance under an England regime not afraid to make a bold selection call on players they've identified - it'll be a cracking price to see.
So there seems no reason not to add him to the staking plan before the warm-up game in Queenstown reveals any clues.