Ashes betting preview: England need a fast start in Brisbane or it could be a whitewash

Andy Schooler previews the Ashes and rates Australia much better man for man than an under-cooked England ahead of pivotal Test series opener

Andy Schooler delivers his betting verdict on the 2021/22 Ashes series which begins on Wednesday - and it doesn't make good reading for England fans.

Best bets for Australia vs England

Australia to win 5-0 - 13/2

Australia to win 4-1 - 5/1

The 2021/22 Ashes series gets under way this week with England given just a one-in-five chance of winning back the famous urn that they lost on their last tour of Australia four years ago.

This trip has regularly proven too tough a challenge for England over the years.

They've lost nine of 10 Tests across the last two tours Down Under (the other was drawn) and while they did famously win here in 2010/11, that is their only series victory in Australia in the last 35 years.

Enough negativity you say? Well, sorry, but it would be rather remiss of me not to add that this is surely the worst-prepared England side to tour Australia in that entire period.

There has been no warm-up action of note - just a few days of inter-squad cricket - with the last competitive red-ball cricket England's players had coming back in September when they lost to India. It was their third-successive Test series defeat.

In addition, their camp has been split in two for much of the preparation period in Australia - those players arriving from the T20 World Cup were kept apart from their compatriots.

Archer absence a blow for England

Jofra Archer Sussex May21

There's also the factor of Jofra Archer not being here, with potential back-up Olly Stone also absent due to injury.

Such pace would have been welcomed on what tend to be harder, bouncier pitches than those back in Blighty.

Australia have made full use of such conditions in the past and it's not hard to imagine them doing so again with their current line-up.

Their bowling attack certainly looks the more fearsome of the two with the trident of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood likely to be relishing facing an England side which has struggled for runs throughout 2021.

Steve Smith Pat Cummins Australia Dec21

Cummins now has the added weight of captaincy on his shoulders, although the somewhat controversial appointment of former skipper Steve Smith (disgraced over ball-tampering in 2018) as vice-captain should ensure he has plenty of support on that front.

There's also chatter about how it's an injury-prone unit, although the fact that Jhye Richardson is waiting in the wings suggests that's not such a huge concern - Richardson has taken 23 wickets at less than 14 runs apiece in the ongoing Sheffield Shield domestic competition.

Smith boasts incredible record against England

Steve Smith Australia nets Dec21

The batting does not look as strong, although it still contains some experienced, proven performers, none more so than Smith, who England have consistently struggled against for a decade.

He's top-scored in the last three Ashes series, averaging a remarkable 65.2 against England, higher than his superb overall Test average of 61.8.

Marnus Labuschagne is another who averages over 60 in Test matches having made an excellent start to his Test career. He's looked in fine form in the Sheffield Shield, scoring two recent centuries for Queensland, while he also made four half-centuries against England in 2019's drawn series.

Australia possess the stronger spin option in Lyon

Nathan Lyon Australia nets Dec21

Perhaps crucially, the Aussies also possess a strong spinner in Nathan Lyon, who is just one wicket shy of 400 in Tests.

With Moeen Ali, a man who took more Test wickets than anyone else in the 12 months prior to July 2019, now retired from Test cricket, England lack such a solid option, the first deficiency in their squad.

Jack Leach is their first-choice spinner, although whether that means he actually plays or not remains to be seen.

He would be expected to be in the XI in Brisbane, at least that would be the case had the weather not been so wet, and Sydney but it's easy to see England going with an all-seam attack at some stage on this tour.

England seam attack lacks pace

James Anderson England nets Dec21

In terms of the seamers, England do have options, although that doesn't necessarily mean they are top-quality ones.

The absence of Archer and Stone means Mark Wood is the only man with genuine zip in an attack which also includes James Anderson and Stuart Broad, two of the great bowlers of their generation but both in the twilight of their career. The pair have also had less effect with the Kookaburra ball in Australia, where lateral movement is harder to find, and it's being suggested one may have to make way.

Ollie Robinson made a good start to life in the Test side in the summer, averaging under 20, but this is a much different challenge, while Chris Woakes is another option, albeit one who struggled here four years ago.

chris Woakes England warm-up Dec21

Too much resting on the shoulders of Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes England nets Dec21

I've managed to get this far without mentioning Ben Stokes.

How big a part he plays in this attack (and with the bat) is frankly open to question.

Stokes hasn't played competitively in almost five months having suffered a finger injury and then taken time out for mental-health reasons.

We all remember his Headingley heroics against Australia in 2019 but expecting him to come straight back into the side and produce his best form immediately is surely wishful thinking.

If Stokes can't truly be relied upon in the all-rounder role he's done so well in over the years, how does that affect the balance of the side, particularly if there's no spinner?

I suspect Stokes will be asked to deliver too much with the bat too at number five.

England's batting problems have been evident throughout 2021.

They fell to 66-3, 67-5 and 69-4 against India in late summer and I could provide many more similar examples from earlier in the year.

Essentially whoever has batted there, the top three has struggled with too much falling on captain and number four Joe Root.

England's best batsman averages over 50 in Tests but notably against Australia that figure drops to 40.3. In Australia, where he's yet to make a century, Root's average dips to 38.

If Woakes doesn't play, the tail looks fairly long and I have big concerns over whether England are going to be able to post numerous scores over 400, which history shows are usually required to win Tests in Australia.

In their last 18 Test matches, England have gone past 303 only twice. That says much.

The conclusion is that England look up against it.

Some crumbs of comfort for England

Steve Smith dismissed by Mohammed Siraj Jan21

That said, it's possible to find things which could work in England's favour.

First of all, Australia's preparation has only been marginally better. The COVID quarantine restrictions still applied to some of their players, while the fact is that the Baggy Greens have played just four Tests in almost two years due to the pandemic.

The last of those was back in January in Brisbane when India won to claim a 2-1 series victory, this despite having been bowled out for just 36 in the first Test.

Another potentially significant factor is the weather.

It's been much wetter than usual on the tour for England up in Queensland with the El Nina weather system prevalent this year.

In this part of the world it brings wetter, cooler weather than the norm and the more similar the conditions are to back home the better as far as England are concerned - Robinson has already commented about how the ball seems to be doing more than had been expected.

It's probably not going to be the bone-hard surface of years gone by at the Gabba for this week's first Test and England will hope to capitalise.

They've lost five of the last seven in Brisbane (the other two drawn) and know they can ill afford to get off to a losing start.

We've seen many an England team slump after losing an opening Ashes Test Down Under, while the record books show the last England side to win the Ashes after losing the first Test in Australia was the 1954/55 one led by Len Hutton and featuring Frank 'Typhoon' Tyson, who took 28 wickets in the series.

England need to start well or it could be a long tour

James Anderson pink ball Dec17

Another boost for Root's men is the fact that the second game of the series is a day-nighter in Adelaide where they should be able to get a bit more out of the pink ball in the evenings.

For me, England must win at least one of those two matches to have a genuine chance of regaining the urn, although, like the bookies, I still regard overall victory as a long shot.

My verdict is that Australia are comfortably the better side, man for man, and should show that in home conditions once again.

If they start well - and their record at the Gabba gives them plenty of hope they will - it's likely to be another long few weeks for the tourists.

Therefore I'm happy to chance 5-0 at 13/2 in the correct-score betting. That's been the score in two of the last four Ashes series in Australia.

The schedule does, however, give England hope and they are capable of an early win if they perform as a team.

Backing 4-1 at 5/1 as a saver option is the advice.

Last 10 Ashes series:

2019 - England 2-2 Australia (1 draw)

2017/18 - Australia 4-0 England (1 draw)

2015 - England 3-2 Australia

2013/14 - Australia 5-0 England

2013 - England 3-0 Australia (2 draws)

2010/11 - Australia 1-3 England (1 draw)

2009 - England 2-1 Australia (2 draws)

2006/07 - Australia 5-0 England

2005 - England 2-1 Australia (2 draws)

2002/03 - Australia 4-1 England

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