Winter Test cricket preview with early predictions, betting advice and names to note

Winter cricket betting preview
Winter cricket betting preview

Richard Mann looks ahead to a packed winter of Test cricket and highlights a number of possible betting angles that shouldn't go under the radar.


India set to rule the world

After the unforgettable 2019 summer of cricket, one which saw England crowned World Cup champions before Australia retained the Ashes in a series that had twists and turns throughout, fans and cricket bettors have had time to finally catch their breath before the merry-go-round begins again.

An opportunity for reflection and to take stock was definitely welcome but an exciting winter awaits, one which has already seen India surge clear at the the top of the ICC World Test Championship table.

Virat Kohli's side have now won 11 series in a row at home and much like many of the great sides throughout the history of the sport, their success is being built around a wonderful bowling attack that can boast pace, swing and a number of spin options.

Virat Kohli celebrates India's victory
Virat Kohli

With Kohli himself now at the peak of his powers and seemingly locked in an arms race with Steve Smith for the crown of number one batsman in the world, he should continue to lead from the front while Rohit Sharma's outstanding returns in the recent 3-0 whitewash of South Africa adds another layer to an already strong batting line-up and begs the question why he wasn't asked to open the batting in Test cricket before, a role he has carried out with so much success in the shorter forms of the game.

With Bangladesh visiting India before the turn of the year, expect more dominance from Kohli's outfit - though an away series against New Zealand in February will be a more significant test of just how far they have come, particularly for the likes of Sharma and fellow opener Mayank Agarwal.

Victory in Australia last winter tells you that this India is different from those that we have seen before; they can travel and it must be remembered how close they pushed England in their own conditions in 2018.

New Zealand can be expected to provide some spicy pitches for that forthcoming series but don't be fooled into thinking Sharma's three hundreds again South Africa came on typically lifeless Indian pitches. His 212 in the final Test at Ranchi came on a surface that offered plenty of encouragement to the seamers, namely Kagiso Rabada, and there has to be genuine belief that he can prosper away from India.

As in the case with Sharma in limited-overs cricket, getting through the new ball will be key to his chances of success because, as 27 ODI and four T20I hundreds help to illustrate, he invariably goes big once set.

With Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane in the same line-up, I won't be keen to back Sharma in the top India batsman markets too often - for all Kohli can be over bet - but even in tough batting conditions, I will be happy to monitor on an innings-to-innings basis in the hope of chancing him to make 100 or more should the prices be tempting enough.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma

Despite his sound Test record, I still think there is a general perception that Sharma is vulnerable against the moving ball and as such, I suspect traders will be out to get him away from home.

Someone who has already proven his mettle on foreign shores is Rahane. In fact, the diminutive right-hander averages 45.76 away from home as opposed to only 37.66 at home.

Rahane is India's man for all conditions, a fine all-round batsman who does the dirty work when his team needs it most, his ability to play late allowing him to combat the moving ball better than many of his teammates.

With an average of 54 from two matches in New Zealand, including a superb 118 at Wellington in 2014, Rahane clearly has form in these conditions but unlike Sharma, who tends to go big when set, Rahane is the man for a crisis.

Should India lose early casualties and find themselves in trouble somewhere along the way, Rahane will be the man to be with, particularly on the runs line of this perennially underrated batsman.

Australia on the up but batting frailties remain

If India are currently the standout team in the world, Australia are heading the chasing pack following their superb showing in the Ashes this summer.

Their bowling, led by the Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, is a typically strong Australian attack but in comparison to India's powerful and deep batting line-up, Australia's is fragile with Smith shouldering immense responsibility.

Two hundreds in the match for Steve Smith
Steve Smith

David Warner began the new Sheffield Shield season by making a century, suggesting his shocking Ashes tour of England will soon be forgotten now returned to home comforts, but for Australia to win away from home, he has improvements to make.

Warner averages 59.64 at home in Test cricket but only 33.17 away from home. Expect him to come good against Pakistan and New Zealand this winter, and don't be afraid to support him accordingly, but history tells us not to rely on the same returns when he goes on the road again.

These comments don't apply to Smith, who appears to have mastered all conditions, but he has no secrets from anyone and has actually suffered a few rare failures in the early part of the Australian domestic season.

Marnus Labuschange is another whom Australians will have high hopes for this winter but for all he impressed against England last summer, he is still without a Test century in nine matches and his inability to convert numerous starts into something more substantial means his Test average is yet to reach the magic 40 mark.

I won't be getting carried away with him until he proves he can bat for longer periods, and it's worth noting that he has three fifties from four innings at the start of the Sheffield Shield season without going on to three figures.

Changes galore for Pakistan

It's all change for Pakistan ahead of their tour of Australia with former captain Misbah-ul-Haq having taken over as head coach and head of selection, and his most significant early play has seen him move swiftly to replace Sarfaraz Ahmed with Azhar Ali as captain.

Sarfaraz's leadership certainly had plenty of critics, and he has struggled for runs of late, so it's hardly surprising to see him lose his job and place in the side with Azhar's healthy returns when Pakistan toured Australia in 2016-2017 and the fact he was one of Misbah's most trusted lieutenants in his playing days clearly aiding his cause.

Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali

Much attention on the Pakistan batting will surround the excellent Babar Azam and this huge talent shouldn't be long in improving on a Test average of 35.28.

His ODI average of 54.17 is a much more accurate reflection of his abilities and Australia, with its hard, flat batting surfaces, should really play to his strengths.

He is unlikely to represent much value in any top Pakistan batsman markets, whether that be for the series or from innings to innings, but Asad Shafiq and Shan Masood are interesting names for different reasons.

Shafiq is a veteran of 69 Tests, another who was an ever-present throughout Misbah's captaincy from 2010 to 2017, and although runs have been harder to come by as he enters the twilight of his career, it appears significant that his old General wanted him on board for a notoriously tough tour of Australia.

His sparkling second-innings 137 very nearly helped Pakistan pull of an unlikely chase of 490 at the Gabba back in 2016 and remains one of the highlights of his career, Test match hundreds in England and South Africa other notable achievements for a subcontinent batsman.

Shafiq was less impressive on his most recent visit to South Africa, Pakistan losing 3-0 as he barely averaged 30 in the face of a home seam attack that ran riot on a host of green pitches.

Asad Shafiq
Asad Shafiq

Nevertheless, as has become his way, Shafiq ended the series with a pugnacious and defiant second-innings fifty to remind Pakistan fans of what he still has to offer. A series top score of 88 came in the second Test, again in the second innings, and he remains an anomaly in that his second-innings record is superior to his first innings.

I'm not sure Shafiq is one to trust in any top batsman markets but should the chance arise, I'll be keen to side with him in some way in the seconds innings, particularly if Pakistan find themselves on the back foot and in need of an aggressive counter-attack.

For all Pakistan's batsmen will be expected to struggle against Australia's fearsome pace attack, I think Shan Masood could do very well against whatever the home side throw at him.

Masood was the pick of the Pakistan batsmen on that aforementioned tour of South Africa, finishing the three-match series with 228 runs at 38, numbers that look even more impressive when you consider that he opened the batting against the likes of Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Rabada on some seamer-friendly surfaces.

A huge talent who has long been identified as a future star of Pakistan cricket, Masood looks to have turned the corner now and impressed with an organised game plan and the amount of time he had in facing up to that pace-laden South Africa bowling attack.

One Test century from 15 matches suggests he needs to go big more often but he might be underestimated in Australia and I'll want to have him on side in some way, whether it be playing over on his runs line innings to innings, or to make a half-century at anything close to the 3/1 mark.

Busy winter ahead for England

Chris Silverwood's reign as England head coach will begin with Test series against New Zealand and South Africa as the refocus on the longer form of the game begins to take shape.

We'll look at the tour of New Zealand in much more detail nearer the time but the Kiwis, as ever, are sure to prove a tough nut to crack on their home patch with Kane Williamson leading a well-drilled unit that might feel they have a score to settle following their heartbreaking World Cup final defeat earlier in the year.

Kane Williamson
Kane Williamson

With old hands Trent Boult and Ross Taylor continuing to lead the way for New Zealand, this has the potential to be an intriguing two-match series, and one in which England will need to demonstrate the lessons learned from a tough Ashes battle against Australia.

The penny finally appears to be dropping with regard to England's approach to batting, a more patient game-plan centred around occupation of the crease being favoured over the exhilarating but often reckless approach of the last few years.

Dom Sibley's elevation to the national set-up certainly fits that mantra and Joe Denly and Rory Burns will remain key if they likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler are to be allowed the freedom to play their natural games later in the innings.

If this new philosophy works, England certainly have the foundations for a strong Test side with Jofra Archer's emergence and James Anderson's expected return for the subsequent South Africa tour giving the bowling a strong look.

While New Zealand have few secrets from anyone, it is hard to know just what to expect from South Africa following their 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of India recently.

With AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn all recently retired, the batting will rely heavily on the likes of Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis with Rabada and Philander, particularly in home conditions, sure to carry the burden of expectation with the ball.

Zubayr Hamza
Zubayr Hamza

One name who might not be familiar yet with England fans is Zubayr Hamza.

Hamza has built an impressive first-class record with ten hundreds from 57 matches seeing him average just a shade under 50 and it is no surprise that the South African selectors have taken notice.

The Cape Cobras youngster had to watch from the sidelines as South Africa lost the first two Tests in India recently but he finally got his chance for the series finale, wasting little time in announcing his international arrival with a first-innings half-century that came when all around him were wilting under the relentless Indian pressure.

He was 7/2 in a place to reach the milestone on that occasion and anything similar on offer when England come to visit will be well worth taking about a fine, young batsman who has a massive future and could well be a household name in 12 months' time.

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