The first Ashes Test begins in Cardiff this morning with Australia 10/11 at BetVictor to take a 1-0 lead to Lords next week.
For much of the last 12 months I have thought the series would be a no-contest but the nearer we get to the action getting under way the more I think England are not without a chance although I do have major reservations about their top order.
England are 3/1 to draw first blood with the draw 9/4 and much is expected of vice-captain Joe Root who is 10/3 to be top England scorer in the first innings and that is the recommendation. The jury is out for me on Gary Ballance as a Test number three and I wonder if we have seen the best of Ian Bell who will bat at four.
Ballance has had an almost typical England preparation for Test cricket. Born in Zimbabwe he played for Zimbabwe under 19s, went to Harrow and made his Test debut against the Baggy Greens in the final Test of the last series in Sydney at the beginning of 2014. He scored 18 and 7 (batted six) at the SCG but has subsequently improved his Test record to an excellent average of over 50; until now. He averaged nine in four innings against New Zealand earlier in the summer and I doubt he will be in the side come the final Test at the Oval next month.
I think Australia will shade it 3-1 (6s at BetVictor) but the lower middle order of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali is as exciting a line-up as I can remember in English cricket. If England go down I think it will be with all guns blazing; if Moeen Ali returned to last summer’s form with the ball the 10/1 for him to be top England wicket taker in the series would be huge and I think if the hosts are playing catch-up later in the series then Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid must surely play to give Captain Cook another bowling option.
The draw for the BetVictor World Matchplay tournament was made on Monday and number one seed Michael van Gerwen looks to have been given a smooth passage into the semi-final. My initial thoughts on the draw: Jelle Klaasen, who burst onto the scene a couple of years ago and then went off the radar, has been playing well of late, winning in Wigan last weekend, and he looks the value at Evens with BetVictor against Aussie Simon Whitlock (8/11) in the tournament curtain-raiser on Saturday July 18th.
Other notable 1st Round ties include Keegan Brown at 11/10 against Robert Thornton (8/11). The latter has played five and lost all five 1st Round ties on the Winter Gardens stage and Brown is a rare young talent.
Newmarket’s three-day July meeting begins on Thursday and I think Godolphin’s Steady Pace (2.45) can reverse last month’s Windsor Castle Stakes form with Areen over the additional furlong in the July Stakes. Sixth Sense is dropping back a furlong, having appeared to find 7f taxing his stamina in the Chesham also at Royal Ascot last time, for Mark Johnston whose string remain in great shape.
I’m looking forward to seeing the unbeaten Mahsoob (3.15) step up to 12 furlongs for the first time for John Gosden. The colt looked to be crying out for the extra distance when winning the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot last time but this represents his toughest assignment yet in the Group 2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes with Sir Michael Stoute double-handed with Gospel Choir and Hillstar.
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