Cummins the man to follow
To bastardise an Alan Partridge quote: ‘Just Back Pat'. Pat Cummins, the Australia attack leader, looks primed for a sizzling Ashes and the 5/2 that he finishes top wicket-taker for his country is the standout bet of the top markets.
Cummins is Australia's most skilful bowler and before an arm has been turned in anger, he is shaping up be the mainstay of an attack which is bristling with as much options as it is pace. The late run for the XI by James Pattinson, a tyro, has threatened to break up the big three of Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
And it is Starc who is in most danger with the World Cup top wicket-taker struggling to adapt from white ball to red. The word from the Aussie camp is that Starc could miss the first Test at Edgbaston, which starts on Thursday. That alone is enough to rate Cummins as the value.
Fortunately, Cummins, finally fit and healthy after a nightmare with injuries, has more than a few strings to his bow. He has a 42% win rate on the first-innings top bowler market and on two-year data his strike rate of 46.5 is superior to his team-mates. Starc takes a wicket every 50 balls and Hazlewood every 68.
Cummins' appeal is largely based on his adaptability, despite playing only 20 Tests. In contrasting conditions in India and South Africa he was a menace. He varied his pace for the former returning a decent strike rate of 57 and in South Africa, which will have prepped him best for England, he was superb returning a rate of 41.
The greatest threat to the Cummins bet could be Pattinson, who is an out-and-out wicket-taker. He was hugely impressive in Australia's warm-up in Southampton and with him likely to replace Starc, the [9.0] available on the exchange is too big.
Smith gets the nod
The race for top Australia bat is almost as clear cut. It seems to be a straight fight between Steve Smith and David Warner. Given that Warner is slightly bigger at 5/2 than Smith's 2/1, it is hardly a mug wager to side with the opener.
But we're not going to do that. Smith has four wins in this market in the last seven series he has played and he also boasts a superior record in English conditions. In terms of average, it's not a big margin, but a six-run gap is not to be sniffed at. After all, Warner was denied top-dog status by one run from Rohit Sharma in the World Cup.
Warner was superb in a tournament which, surprisingly, was dominated by bowlers so it would be wrong to claim that his weaknesses against a moving ball will mean a poor return. Smith, with his tangled-spaghetti technique, looks like a walking wicket – largely because he is on a stroll when the bowler is in his delivery stride. But his head is perfectly still when the ball comes out.
England's top batter market is a conundrum. One the one hand there is very little to beat. On the other the man most likely to do the winning is skinny – Joe Root is no better than 2/1 with Sportsbook.
Even accounting for the unique pressure that an Ashes series places on captains, it is hard to envisage Root not notching more than those in front of him in the batting order. There is precious little evidence that Rory Burns, Jason Roy and Joe Denly are Test standard.
Swerve Root and look down the order
So Root is a bet, then? No. The eye-catching wager is Ben Stokes who is enjoying a golden run of form. Stokes won England the World Cup with his batting. He could well do the same with the urn. Stokes is only a couple of runs behind Root in terms of average in the last 12 months. Stokes is [10.5] on the exchange.
Top of the runs pile with that filter is Jos Buttler. He shouldn't be discounted either at a whopping [14.5]. Buttler slips under the radar because he is viewed as a one-day player but he could make the No 5 position his own in this series.
We will be swerving top England series bowler because of fitness concerns. As it stands, James Anderson is battling to be fit for the first Test with a calf niggle and even the slightest doubt about him missing a game means we can't get involved at 2/1. There is a real possibility that England's bowling attack could be chopped and changed with selectors keen to get Jofra Archer and Mark Wood in on the action. Both are injured at the moment.