Cricket expert Ryan Elliott notched-up a whopping 84pts profit in 2019. He's back with a multitude of tips for England's Test series against the West Indies.
Test cricket is back, and it feels so, so good.
Of course, it won’t feel the same as normal, with the boisterous English crowd an integral part of a cricketing summer, but right now, I’m just glad this amazing sport is finally back.
And it’s the West Indies who stand in England’s way first up, and I’ve dug down into the stats to hopefully unearth some value, after such a profitable 2019.
Looking at the series result markets, I believe the value lies with a 2-1 England victory.
It’s well worth noting that this England side don’t do draws. Only four of England’s last 43 Test matches have ended in a draw, and only one of these came on home soil: the rain-affected Ashes Test at Lord’s last year.
This means, barring some catastrophic weather, this three-match Test series will end 3-0 or 2-1, as I simply cannot see England losing at home to this West Indies side. The visitors are on a six-series losing streak in England, although I do believe the two sides much closer in quality than they were back in the 2000s and 2010s.
Remember, the West Indies won their last Test series against England—a 2-1 triumph in the Caribbean in 2018/19—and their last meeting on English soil only finished 2-1 to the hosts.
Of course, a whitewash is justifiably the most likely outcome (13/10). England hammered South Africa in their own back yard just six short months ago (those were the days), while India comfortably beat the West Indies 2-0 in their last major Test series.
However, I do believe the value lies in a 2-1 England win at 9/2, and that’s primarily down to England’s batting. Since 2016, England have only passed 400 five times on home soil, and while there’s plenty of youthful promise about their current line-up, there are still slight causes for concern.
Joe Root misses the first Test, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are yet to make their debut at home, Rory Burns returns after a long injury lay-off, Jos Buttler hasn’t scored a Test run in 18 months and Joe Denly…is Joe Denly.
Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope are the two batsmen I expect big things from, and I’ll touch on them a little later.
The visitors have some good bowlers at their disposal, and it only takes one poor session with the bat to lose a Test match, which is why I’m taking the 9/2 for England to win the series 2-1.
Top England Batsman
At 5/1, I believe Ollie Pope is great value to be England’s top batsman.
The Surrey man was outstanding in South Africa, averaging 88.66 and scoring two fifties and a maiden century in his five innings, and I like him coming in lower down the order when the ball is a little softer.
Pope, the perfect conglomeration of Ian Bell and Joe Root, is one of those players who immediately looks so comfortable at this level, and he’s only going to get better and better.
Dom Sibley also performed well in South Africa, but he does still have this slight leg-side defect which the West Indians will no doubt target.
We saw how all openers during last year’s Ashes struggled (barring Rory Burns, who was impressive), and Kemar Roach & Shannon Gabriel are new ball bowlers capable of causing real damage to England’s top order – particularly Roach, who has an excellent record against them.
With Root missing the first Test, Ben Stokes is Pope’s chief threat in this market. The stand-in skipper averages 42.14 against the West Indies, and in the last two years, only Root and Virat Kohli have scored more Test runs – although that’s partly down to the sheer amount of cricket England play.
However, with the burden of captaincy also on Stokes’ shoulders, I do believe it’s worth edging a little more towards Pope, who will be free to think about runs and little else.
I’m confident Joe Denly and Jos Buttler won’t outscore Pope, while Zak Crawley, while talented, still isn’t as good as the 22-year-old.
Top England Bowler
This is where things get interesting. Looking at Wednesday’s squad, it appears over the course of the three Tests, England will rotate between Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Dom Bess – not a bad selection of bowlers (although Sam Curran can count himself unlucky).
Anderson is favourite for top England bowler at 9/4, but will England risk him for all three matches? Will he remain fit? There’s no doubt a fit Jimmy, playing in all three Tests, is a big player in this market, but at 9/4 I’m not willing to back him considering the possible fitness issues.
This is also a cause of concern for Wood and Archer. The former has been plagued with injuries for many years now, and must be carefully managed going forward, while Archer, who is hardly a NAP at 10/3, also struggled with an elbow injury in South Africa.
As for Broad, he was excellent in South Africa, taking more wickets than any other Englishman—as well as in last summer’s Ashes—and I also think he’ll play every Test, but I’m not particularly tempted by the 7/2.
Another consideration with Broad is his dominance over left-handers, of which West Indies only possess one of note: John Campbell. Against Australia, Broad had the likes of David Warner, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Travid Head and Matthew Wade to feast upon. With only one top-order left-hander for Broad to have a go at from around the wicket, I’d want a little more value than 7/2.
I do believe having a nibble at the 7/1 on offer for Dom Bess is viable. The Somerset off-spinner took eight wickets in his two South Africa Tests, comprehensively out-bowling his experienced counterpart Keshav Maharaj, with an excellent five-fer at Port Elizabeth his highlight.
With so much uncertainty surrounding England’s quicks, a little piece of 7s for the likely ever-present Bess is, in my eyes, the route to take.
Top West Indies Batsman
Turning attention to the visitors, I’m backing Shai Hope to be their top batsman at 11/4.
This was a toss-up between Hope and opener Kraigg Brathwaite, but it’s the former’s record against England which has swayed it for me.
Despite averaging a smidgen over 27 in Test cricket, which is modest, Hope averages a very respectable 42.33 against England, and an even more impressive 75 in England, scoring two centuries and a fifty in his six innings on these shores.
Brathwaite is the only West Indian batsman who comes close to this sort of record in England (averaging 47.17), while the likes of Roston Chase (13.33), Jason Holder (17.20), Shane Dowrich (4.80) couldn’t buy a run last time they toured.
Hope is better than his Test record suggests, and is a more destructive prospect than the obdurate Brathwaite, who will have the unenviable task of facing the new ball against England’s excellent attack.
If Hope can replicate the form he showed last time he toured England (where scored more runs than any other batsman), I believe he’ll justify his short price.
Top West Indies Bowler
My easiest decision of this preview was picking Kemar Roach as the West Indies’ top bowler.
The experienced right-armer has taken 42 wickets against England at 26.60, and has also ended the last two series’ against England as his team’s top bowler.
The fact he’s performed this well against England, home and away, is a very good sign here, and with question marks still surrounding England’s batting, he’ll feel this is another good opportunity to fill his boots.
Windies skipper Jason Holder is their next greatest threat, and he’s taken 23 wickets against the hosts at 29.87, but has a much lower strike rate than the 32-year-old (61.71 vs 51.92 against all opponents).
Shannon Gabriel is a tough competitor who will also cause issues, but had a poor year bowling-wise in 2019, taking just 13 wickets at 39.00.
Spinner Rahkeem Cornwall is an exciting wildcard who has impressed in his two Tests—taking 13 wickets at 22.61 runs apiece—but he’s not guaranteed a start in all three matches, and I was really impressed with how England played Maharaj in South Africa, so Cornwall may not have as much joy as some predict.
Simply put, Roach has been there and done it countless times against England, and I expect him to do some serious damage when he gets that Dukes ball back in his hands.
40/1 RAB: England to win series, Pope top series batsman, Hope top Windies Batsman, Roach top Windies bowler