Series Winner

England and Australia both head into 2019’s Ashes series with a number of question marks hanging over them.

The Aussies—who haven’t won an Ashes in England since 2001—will feel like this is an outstanding opportunity claim some long-awaited glory on English soil, but despite their superb bowling attack, there are plenty of unknown quantities within their batting ranks.

As for England, they are still favourites to regain the Ashes, but the issue with their batting is that we do know what to expect: rubbish!

I have little doubt that this will be a series for the bowlers; the attacks are both strong, the conditions will suit them, and barring a few exceptions the batting all-round looks quite weak – prepare for a number of three and four day Test matches.

While it really pains me to say it, I think Australia will retain the Ashes. Due to their 2017/18 victory, Tim Paine’s men only need to draw the series to bring the urn back home, and this year there are too many variables that can go against England – making me head into proceedings as a staunch pessimist.

I’ll look into the batting and bowling in more depth later in the preview, but the Ireland Test at Lord’s last week brutally exposed where England’s true weaknesses lie. Getting bowled out for 85 by anyone is embarrassing, but succumbing to an Irish side so new to Test cricket, the week before an Ashes series, is a very poor look.

In a combined 83 innings in 2019 by English batsmen, only one century has been scored; only three batsmen (Jack Leach, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes) average over 30. And when bowler Sam Curran averages more than Rory Burns, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, you know there are serious issues.

Will Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and co. fear bowling at a top three of Burns, Roy and Joe Denly? I think you know the answer to that.

The return of David Warner and Steve Smith to the Aussies’ Test side is a massive boost, as will Usman Khawaja's inclusion if fit, but those vying for the remaining places, though inexperienced, look in better nick than the England batsmen. Kurtis Patterson and Travis Head both have Test centuries this year; Cameron Bancroft and Marnus Labuschagne have had strong summers on the English First-Class circuit, while the aggressive Matthew Wade, whose sheer weight of runs in recent months has earned him a richly-deserved recall, will be an ever-present danger.

England’s World Cup victory already seems a long time ago – if they don’t sort their batting out sharpish, they might be in for a home series humiliation.

Australia to retain the Ashes - 3pts @ evs

Top Bowler

So after that rather bleak outlook on proceedings, let’s dive into the best bowler market. As usual, these will be value-based plays, and I like what I see with some of the prices.

Kicking-off, I’m backing Pat Cummins to be the series’ top wicket-taker. The Aussie paceman claimed 23 scalps Down Under last time around—the most of any bowler—and he is tailor-made to thrive in English conditions.

He’s also in fantastic form: 14 wickets in his three Test matches in 2019 is a great return, and judging by how poorly the English batsman deal with skilful pace bowling, he’ll be in for plenty of joy.

As for the other Aussie bowlers, Mitchell Starc—who averages 28.20 in Tests compared to 20.99 in ODIs—isn’t guaranteed a start in all five Test matches due to the level of competition, while off-spinner Nathan Lyon, though I expect him to take plenty of wickets, only has two left-handers to bowl at in England’s top six.

Josh Hazlewood is the other Australian bowler who offers value in this market, as he possesses the control to bother England, but Cummins had a strong World Cup, and I expect him to carry this on into the Ashes.

Heading up this market is Jimmy Anderson, but the veteran seamer has been struggling with a few minor injuries of late, and 9/2 just looks a tad skinny. I do think he’s probably England’s most likely source of wickets, but I’m not touching him at that price.

Jofra Archer is another exciting prospect. An average of 23.44 in First-Class cricket is mightily impressive, and he’s another x-factor bowler who can be a game-changer for England.

However, the value pick here is Stuart Broad. With 95 wickets in his 27 Ashes Tests, Broad is a mightily experienced bowler who has a history of decimating Australian batting line-ups. Though he has plenty of competition for a starting place, his performance against Ireland will surely guarantee a start at Edgbaston, and 11/1 seems a huge price for him to end the series as top wicket-taker – like in 2015.

Pat Cummins - 2pts @ 5/1
Stuart Broad - 1.5pts @ 11/1

Top Batsman

My pick for the top batsman of the series was an easy one: Steve Smith.

This will be the first Test back for Smith and his cheating chums Warner and Bancroft, but the former-skipper, who averages over 61 in the longest form of the game, showed during the World Cup he hasn’t lost any class.

The Aussies have some exciting batsmen coming through their ranks, but Smith, Warner and Khawaja are the most likely to top the run charts for the visitors, and Smith at 5/1 for top series batsman is worth a nibble. An average of 56.28 against England, with eight centuries from his 41 innings, looks an ominous record. Warner averages 49.03 against England, while the hosts’ best batsman, Joe Root, has an average of just 42.78 against the Australians.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but judging by how poor England’s Test match batting has been for so long—and how good Australia’s bowlers are—it’s hard to see anyone scoring more runs than Smith this summer.

Looking at the bigger prices, Matthew Wade is a man who is definitely value in the top Australian batsman market. Smith is 2/1 here, and definitely favourite, but Wade has scored 50s in seven of his last nine competitive outings, and looks set to claim the number six position.

33/1 seems very generous for the 31-year-old to score more runs than his other countrymen, and while it’s semi-reliant on the big guns failing to fire this summer, I’d still suggest it’s worth a punt.

Looking at England’s top batsman, I think Joe Root is very poorly-priced at 9/4. The Three Lions skipper averages just 26.25 this year in Test cricket, and the uncertainty around his batting position—coupled with the mental rigours of captaincy—aren’t allowing him to perform to his maximum potential.

You can forget about Burns and Denly in this market, as well as Jason Roy (unless he bats in the middle order), while Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali (who average 15.71 and 12.28 in 2019 respectively) are currently walking wickets.

Therefore, I’m backing Ben Stokes to be England’s top batsman of the series. The ginger wizard was phenomenal with the bat during the World Cup, and arguably has the best technique of any English player: his bludgeoning capabilities are evident, but his crisp defence and assured footwork will serve him well against the high-class Aussie bowling.

He just feels overpriced at 8/1, particularly considering there’s a good chance he could bat at three at some stage in the series (a job I believe he’s perfectly suited for), and if England do go on to win this series, Stokes will once again be instrumental with the bat.

Steve Smith - 3pts @ 5/1
Matthew Wade - Top Aus Batsman - 1pt @ 33/1
Ben Stokes - Top England Batsman - 2pts @ 8/1

RAB Of The Series

I have a dirty little RAB to end proceedings with, priced at 150/1: Ben Stokes top England batsman, James Anderson top England bowler, Steve Smith top Australia Batsman, Pat Cummins top Australia bowler.

I’ve already outlined Stokes, Smith and Cummins’ chances of success this series, while it’s hardly outlandish to assume Jimmy will finish the series as England’s top bowler – as he did with 17 wickets Down Under a couple of years ago, despite conditions which didn’t suit him in the slightest.

This is well worth a few quid.

Follow @RyanEJourno

Stokes Top Eng Batsman, Anderson Top Eng Bowler, Smith Top Aus Batsman, Cummins Top Aus Bowler - 1pt @ 150/1