Our Andy Schooler takes a look at the Ashes runscorer markets - he's taking on Steve Smith and also putting up a 14/1 shot.
Best bets for the Ashes runscorer markets
If you've followed the Ashes in recent years, it's fair to say you'll know about Steve Smith.
The former Australian skipper has been a constant thorn in England's side, winning the top series runscorer accolade in each of the last three.
A career Test average of 61.8 will ensure he goes down as one of the best batsmen of his generation, albeit he will ultimately be remembered for his role in the ball-tampering scandal of 2018.
It is perhaps all the more remarkable therefore that Smith brushed aside crowd hostilities to top-score (by some distance) again on the tour of England in 2019, taking his average against the Old Enemy to 65.1.
It's not hard to see why he's been installed as the 5/2 favourite to be top series runscorer in 2021/22 - he is also 6/4 to top the Australian run charts.
But there looks to be every chance that Smith gets a run for his money this year with team-mate Marnus Labuschagne looking every inch a Test great in the making.
Australia's number three also has a career average above 60. Admittedly that figure is derived from just 18 Tests, although that's not exactly a small data sample.
Crucially he's outscored Smith in all three series Australia have played since the 2019 Ashes, during which he made four consecutive 50s.
All three were played on Australian soil with Labuschagne 'beating' Smith by 426-313 against India, 549-214 vs New Zealand and 347-40 against Pakistan.
While it would be foolish to conclude that Smith's best days are now behind him, there are certainly signs that he might not be at his glorious best in the coming weeks.
In T20 cricket, Smith couldn't get a game at times in the Indian Premier League this year, while his contribution to Australia's recent T20 World Cup win was minimal - he made just 69 runs with a top score of 35.
In contrast, Labuschagne has been playing red-ball cricket of late - and piling up the runs.
He is fresh from scoring two centuries for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield and this looks like a series he can play a major role in.
I'm happy to back the younger man and will do so in the top series runscorer market in which he's a 10/3 chance.
Root's struggles in Australia need to be remembered
Smith or Labuschagne look the most likely winners here with England's batting having let them down consistently during 2021, as I highlighted in my outright series preview here.
Joe Root is the notable exception - he's scored more Test runs than anyone this year, at an average of 66.1 - but the Yorkshire star is yet to make a ton in Australia and his two previous Ashes tours have seen him fail to win the top England runscorer market, let alone the overall one.
That makes me think twice about taking odds of evens about him winning this time around, despite him clearly warranting favouritism.
There's plenty of pressure on his shoulders given England's travails with the bat this year.
Their top three has proved weak.
Dawid Malan did take the top England runscorer honour here four years ago but he's not shown the same level in Tests since.
Haseeb Hameed looks set to get the nod ahead of Zak Crawley for the first Test but it's not hard to envisage Crawley coming at some point if the Nottinghamshire man struggles again. Backing either in this market looks risky.
The same can be said at number six where Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope could be switched in and out of the XI, while backing Ben Stokes - second favourite at 5/1 - clearly carries plenty of risk given his lack of cricket. He's not played competitively since July, while his last Test was back in March. The word undercooked springs to mind.
Opener Burns offers a spot of value
Of those at the top of the order, perhaps Rory Burns represents a spot of value at 7/1.
He averaged 39 in the 2019 series in England - well above his career average of 32.3 - and has played a lot of his cricket on The Oval pitch which is one of the firmer, bat-friendly pitches England has to offer.
Yet England's inability to deal with the new ball in 2021 is a big worry and in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, the Aussies have bowlers likely to get stuck into the tourists early on.
I'm therefore going for a small play on Jos Buttler at 14/1, a price I think is a bit too big given the holes which can be picked in his market rivals.
Keeping wicket ahead of Bairstow, he seems more likely than many to play all five Tests.
Batting at seven, it's not hard to see him having to help pin an innings back together with Root or Bairstow. There's also the strong possibility that he needs to take charge and try to guide the tail through towards the end of an innings.
Some will be put off by his white-ball heroics, which haven't always translated across to the Test arena in terms of technique.
That said, he still holds a better Test average than Malan, Burns and Crawley, his current figure being 33.3.
That ability to counter-attack may reap some rewards during this series and while it would be wrong to totally ignore his struggles against Australia's nagging line in 2019, Buttler might just reward.
It's very much a price play in a market full of doubts, so don't go overboard with stakes.
Ashes top runscorer - market history
2019 (in England)
Smith (Aus) 774
Stokes (Eng) 441
Burns (Eng) 390
2017/18 (in Australia)
Smith (Aus) 687
Marsh (Aus) 445
Warner (Aus) 441
Malan (Eng) 383
Other recent series
2015 - Smith (Aus) 508 (Root 460)
2013/14 - Warner (Aus) 523 (Pietersen 294)
2013 - Bell 562 (Eng) (Watson 418)
2010/11 - Cook 766 (Eng) (Hussey 570)