Australia v England
Fifth Ashes Test Match, January 14-18
Blundstone Arena, Hobart (4am UK)
England were able to hold on for a draw nine wickets down in the fourth Test at Sydney, only just denying Australia from taking a 4-0 lead.
Bowling legends Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were at the crease on Sunday evening to give long suffering fans something to cheer.
Those cheering would have included those who followed the England win or draw Double Chance bet at 11/10 predicted in the preview to that Test, owing much to the weather forecast.
Jonny Bairstow’s brilliant first-innings 113 was his country’s first century of the series.
Unfortunately, however, his participation in the forthcoming fifth Test at Hobart, another day/night affair after Adelaide last month, is in doubt due to a thumb injury sustained during that innings.
Ironically, after the best team performance of the series, Chris Silverwood and Root have more selection concerns than ever.
Joining Bairstow on the treatment table are Ben Stokes (side injury) and Jos Buttler (finger). While Stokes has not been ruled out and should play as a specialist batter, Buttler is on his way home.
Sam Billings has been drafted in from the Big Bash, where he has been in excellent form with bat and gloves, and is set to debut behind the stumps. More of him in a bit.
Another question mark surrounds opening bat Haseeb Hameed, who has scored only 71 runs at 10.14 in this series. Rory Burns is likely to earn a reprieve having been dropped himself earlier in the series.
The suggestions from on ground in Sydney are that alongside Billings replacing Buttler, Burns will replace Hameed, seamer Ollie Robinson will replace spinner Jack Leach and Chris Woakes will replace Anderson, who will be rested.
A dream debut could see Billings bring home 12/1 shot
Some players make the step up look easy. New Zealand’s Devon Conway springs to mind with a debut double century against England at Lord’s in the summer.
Now, I’m not saying Billings is going to score a debut double. But I do expect him to slot in nicely to the wicketkeeper-batter role at picturesque Bellerive Oval (or Blundstone Arena if you like the sponsor’s name).
Kent captain Billings, aged 30, knows his game back to front and already has 58 international caps to his name against the white ball.
He is the owner of six first-class centuries, including two against Yorkshire in the same Championship game in September 2019. Incredibly, he was the first player to achieve that feat in a first-class game played at Headingley.
An innovative player with IPL experience, he is no stranger to the big stage and has been a pivotal figure in Sydney Thunder’s excellent Big Bash form of late with scores of 44 not out, 43, 64 and 67 in nine innings.
Given England’s top order failings, he could easily be thrust into a recovery job and come up with bet365’s 12/1 on him to be the top batter in England’s first innings.
Remember, Betfred have been offering a first-innings top run-scorer offer for all Ashes Test. Place a top run-scorer bet and if your player scores a century but fails to top score, they will pay you out as a winner in cash within 24 hours. They are offering 10/1 on Billings to be England’s top scorer in the first innings.
If you want to look at Australia for a top bat bet, I am sticking with market leader Steve Smith, who has yet to fire in this series and is due – Betfred have him at 15/8.
Usman Khawaja is 11/2 to back up his twin centuries at the SCG.
Robinson top England bowler has appeal at 3/1
I am steering clear of any match betting as there is some rain forecast for Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Hobart, but England oh so nearly blew that Double Chance bet at Sydney when rain disrupted that fixture.
Instead, Ollie Robinson’s impending return to the team could offer some success for the punters.
With 37 wickets in eight Test appearances so far, including two five-wicket hauls, the seamer has offered England plenty of potency even if he hasn’t been at his best on this tour so far.
But, with the pink ball in his hand and a freshness after sitting it out at Sydney, he could very well claim England’s top first-innings bowler at 3/1 with bet365.