Battle to be best of the Tests to end all square

ENGLAND vs INDIA

Today – 11 am Sky Sports 1

AFTER two and a half years of hard work England have the chance to officially become the number one Test side in the world. To do that they will need to beat incumbent rulers India by at least two clear Tests, with the sides about to go head-to-head over four matches.

England can be backed at around 3/1 to win by a margin sufficient to take them to top spot and they are 5/4 favourites to win the series with Star Sports. The argument for England is that they have won seven and drawn the other of their last eight series, have one of the best batting line-ups in world cricket, and will benefit greatly from home comforts. It’s a compelling case, but not quite enough to be a convincing one.

India travel to these shores on the back of an even longer stretch without a Test series defeat. Their last loss was to Sri Lanka in July 2008 and they can equal England with the bat. As for the weather, it may hinder as much as help the hosts, with an unsettled period forecast for the coming month.

There’s also the fact that England have not had a positive series result against India since winning 1-0 at home in 1996. The following series have been divided between two 1-1 draws and three 1-0 India wins, two of which were secured in the two previous contests. I would rather lay England at 2.26 on Betdaq.

From a spread betting perspective, selling England’s series supremacy with Sporting Index at 4 would be the sensible approach, where a team is awarded 10 points for winning the series and five points per match won by, therefore the maximum or minimum total is plus or minus 30. With two such accomplished batting units going head-to-head, the bowlers in both teams are going to have their work cut out. The 5/1 on offer with Star Sports for a correct series score of 1-1 is also worth taking.

The opening match, which begins at Lord’s today, is likely to set the tone. The stalemate has been backed into 5/6 with Star Sports and that looks the right price with rain predicted to be on its way.

After scoring 579 Test runs in 2011, no man on earth can match Alastair Cook’s achievements in the five day game this year. His fine form extended to the one dayers against the Sri Lankans, when he hit another 298, so Cook is unsurprisingly at the head of the betting to be top scorer at Lord’s, alongside Jonathan Trott, whose Test average has now crept up to 62.23. Both men can be backed in the market at around 7/2.

Also in the running is 4/1 shot Andrew Strauss – fresh from scoring 78 and 109 not out in a warm-up match this week against India during his temporary spell with Somerset. Ian Bell is second only to Cook in terms of runs gathered this year after compiling 446 in five innings in 2011 and can be backed at 6/1.

However, Kevin Pietersen seems to finally be recovering from the worst slump of his career and is a very tempting option at 9/2. Pietersen was back in fine touch towards the end of the Test series versus Sri Lanka, coming into this one with scores of 74 and 85 from his most recent two innings. If he can continue from where he left off, he will reach a heavy series total. Sporting Index are trading his series runs at 290-310 and I’d be confident buying at that price.

For India, the spotlight will fall firmly on one man: Sachin Tendulkar. The Little Master began his Test career all the way back in November 1989 and first faced England the following summer. During that tour Tendulkar recorded his first Test century and two decades on, the best batsman of the modern era stands on the verge of recording his 100th international ton, with 51 of the 99 coming from Tests.

He is available at 7/4 with Star Sports to complete this marvellous achievement at Lord’s, and with seven previous hundreds to his name in 24 matches against England, he’ll be expecting to nail that landmark during the series. Already comfortably the leading scorer of all time, Tendulkar needs just another 308 runs to pass the 15,000-mark in Tests. Sporting Index expect him to achieve that at some point this summer, with his series runs spread set at 320-340. Potential buyers at this price will be encouraged by the fact his average jumps from 56.94 to 61.42 against the Three Lions.