Cricket Betting: England v South Africa - First Test Preview


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The two best Test teams in the world (forget the rankings) face off at the Oval this week in the first Test of a three-match series that, weather permitting, promises to be a titanic clash between two teams stacked with world-class performers. 

Preparation

England’s preparation for this series couldn’t have gone much better. Their limited-overs players enjoying a dominant 4-0 win over the old enemy Australia, while key batsmen Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen (who are available at 5.50 and 5.00 respectively to be England's top batsman this series) both plundered unbeaten hundreds in county cricket.  

South Africa’s preparation has been dominated by the career-ending injury to veteran wicket-keeper Mark Boucher. The 35-year-old was forced to retire after he was struck in the eye by a bail in the tour game with Somerset and while Thami Tsolekile has been called up as a replacement, AB De Villiers will take the gloves at the Oval. With paceman Marchant de Lange also having to return home with a back injury and rain curtailing their recent tour game at Kent, the tourists have endured a stop-start run-up to the series.

Team News

There were no surprises when England named their 13-man squad on Sunday morning, with Ravi Bopara given yet another chance to prove he can translate his swagger to Test level after a brilliant one-day series against Australia. The Essex batsman will replace Jonny Bairstow at six, while Steven Finn and Graeme Onions are almost certain to be the odd men out once again when the team is named on Thursday morning.

The injury to Boucher is a massive blow for South Africa but with De Villiers standing in, Gary Kirsten’s side can afford to fit in another batsman with Jacques Rudolph and JP Duminy now both expected to play. The build-up to this series has focussed on the obvious threat of pacemen Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, but the England batsmen will be wise not to look past leg-spinner Imran Tahir. He has plenty of experience in English conditions after county spells at Hampshire and Warwickshire.

Key Men

I am going to resist temptation and look beyond Kevin Pietersen here as I believe Jimmy Anderson (available to 4.50 to be the top series bowler) is the key to England winning this series. The tourists boast a batting line-up full of world class batsmen, so it's crucial that Anderson takes advantage of swinging conditions and claims scalps with the new ball.  

The key man for the tourists has to be their skipper Graeme Smith (9.00 to be the top series batsman), who has a habit of getting big hundreds when these two meet – his average in England is a very impressive 72. Moreover, the 31-year-old opener is the heartbeat of his team and his ability to rub opposition players up the wrong way will be sure to keep this series lively.

Best Bets

With plenty of bad weather still forecast for this week, I think it would probably be best for punters to look past the first Test and focus on the series as a whole. I would expect a very close series between these two teams, but with home advantage I would back a 1-0 England series win at 6.00. Another bet worth considering is the ever-consistent Jonathan Trott to be the top batsman in the series at an attractive 7.00.