On Thursday, England’s campaign to become the number one team in Test Match cricket faces a stern examination when they face an India side blessed with world-class players including the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.
England warmed up for the four Test series against the Indians by playing Sri Lanka over three Tests and Andrew Strauss’ team certainly lacked a cutting edge as they stumbled to a 1-0 series victory thanks to a dramatic late win in Cardiff when the match appeared to be fizzling out to a draw.
Even so, the bookmakers think that the team that comfortably won the Ashes last winter will take all the beating on home soil and the best odds that can be found about England winning the series is 5/4 with bet365 (£200 free bets).
India are a class act with both bat and ball, with many punters likely to gobble up the 11/5 (William Hill) about the tourists considering that this team are now more than capable of making their mark away from their own country.
Tendulkar is unsurprisingly favourite (7/2 Blue Square) to score the most India runs during the four Tests, while Rahul Dravid is as solid an opener as any team could wish for and ‘The Wall’ is a 9/2 chance with Stan James. VVS Laxman is 6/1 with Ladbrokes to score the most runs.
Picking the top England batsman looks like a trappy contest and the bookies are getting wise to the fact that Kevin Pietersen (5/1 Coral) is more of a liability at the moment with a bat than he is an asset. It is understandable why the in-form Alastair Cook (3/1 Ladbrokes) is the favourite, although there could be merit in backing Ian Bell (6/1 Ladbrokes) at twice the price.
It is surely a matter of time before Bell starts to excel for England at Test level and it is commonly acknowledged that he is the most naturally gifted player of the bunch. Jonathan Trott (7/2 William Hill – £25 free bet) is the player that can push him the closest, while Andrew Strauss is a 9/2 chance (bet365) and will be looking to forge strong opening partnerships with Cook.
The England bowler market is an interesting one and team director Andy Flower has called on Stuart Broad to start taking more wickets and worry less about ‘roughing up’ the opposition. The bouncer bowler is a 5/1 chance with Ladbrokes and it might also pay to steer clear of Graeme Swann (5/2 Stan James – £25 free betting) whose success clearly depends on how spin-friendly the pitch is.
Instead, Chris Tremlett (3/1 Ladbrokes) and James Anderson (10/3 Coral) could be the players that tussle it out for the most wickets and there is a slight preference for Tremlett after some sound performances against Sri Lanka.