Richard Mann provides his betting preview for England's Test series with Pakistan, which begins in Rawalpindi on Thursday morning.
1pt Zak Crawley top England series batsman at 7/1 (Sky Bet)
1pt Zak Crawley to make a first-innings century in the first Test at 8/1 (Sky Bet, Betfair Sporstbook)
England's Test series with Pakistan will see them bid to put the finishing touches to what is turning out to be a fabulous 2022 for the team, memories of last winter’s Ashes defeat quickly banished following a thrilling summer which saw them trounce New Zealand, beat India in a one-off Test match and then claim a series victory over South Africa.
Conditions will be much different for this three-match series against Pakistan, though any thoughts that the next few weeks will be a battle of spin might be misplaced.
Australia won a three-match series here 1-0 earlier in the year, when flat batting pitches produced huge first-innings scores and seamers who could reverse the ball at high pace enjoyed the most success.
Pat Cummins claimed 12 wickets at an average of 22.50, Mitchell Starc eight at 34.14, and Nathan Lyon, though delivering just about 100 overs more than Cummins in the series (219 in total), 12 at 44.91. For Pakistan, Shaheen Afridi was the most potent threat, picking up nine wickets in all.
Shaheen will be absent this time, having injured his knee in the World Cup final, but Pakistan have an abundance of options with the ball and as long as the likes of Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim Jr can make the switch from limited overs to Test cricket, and handle long, hot days in the field, their attack should prove typically strong.
The cricket begins at Rawalpindi on Thursday morning UK time, and in that aforementioned series, the hosts posted 476-4 declared when batting first on this ground, and 252-0 in their second innings, with Australia’s 459 all out sandwiched in-between. The match eventually petered out into a dull draw.
An early look at the pitch this week suggests we could be in for more of the same, with bowling expected to be tough work, and runs there to be made for the batsmen.
In that Rawalpindi Test earlier in the year, there were three centuries made by openers, plus a 97, while there were big scores from both number threes.
The chief reason for this was that there just wasn’t the conventional swing with the new ball that we are used to seeing in England, and though he comes into this series on the back of a poor summer, Pakistan represents an excellent chance for ZAK CRAWLEY to finish the year on a high.
Having struggled against the likes of Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah, Crawley ended the summer with a typically brazen 69 not out at the Oval, once again reminding England fans of the rich talent that saw the Kent man make a double hundred against Pakistan in 2020.
An aggressive player with all the shots, Crawley really does fit the Brendon McCullum/Ben Stokes mantra, and his best performances in an England shirt have generally come on decent pitches when lateral movement has been minimal and less likely to test his technique outside off stump. His second of two Test hundreds came on a docile surface in Antigua in March.
A fluent 96 in the warm-up match against England Lions, when bearing the brunt off Jofra Archer’s frustration as he works his way back to full fitness, should have done Crawley's confidence as much good as the backing he has received from his coach and captain.
The other ticks in Crawley’s box are that he is a strong through the leg-side, meaning any reverse swing he does encounter ought to be less of a problem to him than others, and his play against spin is pretty good, for all he did find appalling conditions in India two winters back very tough. He wasn't alone.
I think Crawley has lots in his favour on this tour, particularly with Shaheen absent, and while taking him to outscore Joe Root – someone boasting a phenomenal record in Asia – has obvious downsides, Crawley’s price and some of the individual markets are very appealing.
For starters, Crawley has been chalked up at 7/1 with Sky Bet in the top England series runscorer market, with Root the 2/1 favourite, and if you look back at that Pakistan/Australia series, the top two runscorers were openers, with Babar Azam third and another opener in fourth. You have to be with an opener here, even if that means taking on someone as good as Root.
Furthermore, while I'm a big fan of Ollie Pope, last summer showed that he is maturing and can be an excellent international batsman with the right backing. What it didn’t prove was that he has got better against spin, an area of his game that was hopelessly exposed in the last Ashes series, and in India before that. In the second innings at least, Pope still has questions to answer.
With Jonny Bairstow out injured, and the likelihood that Ben Stokes will bat at number six once more, Root is clearly the man to beat, though perhaps with not as much in hand out here as the betting suggests. I’ll take Crawley to small stakes at 7/1.
On a match-by-match basis, I’m keen to explore the individual markets for Crawley, and in the belief the first Test pitch will be flat, I’m happy to throw a few quid at him to make a first-innings century at 8/1.
I’m not mad keen to take strong view on Pakistan's batting markets until it’s clear whether Shan Masood will play and where exactly he’ll bat in the order, given he is unlikely to open following the success of Pakistan’s opening pair in recent times.
Like Crawley, Masood could be interesting in the individual markets, though that’s probably one for in-play should he get the nod and come to the crease with plenty of batting still to do.
And that’s a key point. Wickets could be hard to come by in this series until reverse swing comes into play, and that makes Mark Wood’s fitness so important to England.
Without him, a huge amount of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of James Anderson and Stokes. Anderson is still a terrific bowler in all conditions but is perhaps likely to miss one of three matches in the series. Stokes, barring injury, will play them all.
These are a big few weeks for Jack Leach, too, but I don’t see him proving much of a threat in the early part of these matches and, on value grounds, Stokes might be the best option in the top England bowler market given he is an excellent exponent of reverse swing.
I’ll hold fire for now, but should Wood play in the first Test and miss the second, then might be the time to move on Stokes.
As for this week, I’m expecting plenty of runs, with the toss and batting first always an advantage in this part of the world. It will be interesting to see how England approach the toss, given their preference for chasing last summer.
Either way, I’m expecting Crawley to come to the fore when England do bat, with some flat pitches offering him the opportunity to dominate in a way English conditions and Dukes ball wouldn’t allow last summer.
Preview posted at 1705 GMT on 28/11/2022
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