Captain Cook can keep his cool for England in heat of the Ashes

While Sir Ian Botham’s prediction of a 10-0 win still feels a little boastful, it is clear England are rightful favourites to beat Australia.

Not only do the tourists start the Investec Ashes series having lost two of the last three, their preparations have been little short of shambolic.

In contrast, their hosts have spent over a decade establishing stability and sticking with consistent performers where once they chopped and changed.

Barring defeat to South Africa, who replaced them as world No1, and a turgid performance in New Zealand earlier this year, they have conquered all-comers and even confronted their demons in India.

It is small wonder the bookies have England at no bigger than 2/5 to retain the urn. In recent times the platform on which that success has most often been built has been captain Alastair Cook.

He announced himself to the world in the 2010-11 series by stroking 766 runs in seven innings to give his team their first win Down Under for 24 years.

An exact repeat would be a tall order, but I expect Cook to be on his mettle again and challenging current leader James Anderson for the FTI Most Valuable Player award.

In betting terms, I’m very tempted to buy Cook ton-ups at 64 with Sporting Index – a market that predicts the aggregate total of a player’s runs over a 100 in an individual innings in the series.

As many commentators have stated, it should also be a big series for spinner Graeme Swann.

If this good weather holds he could have a bigger say on the series than England’s seam bowlers, who will be reliant on reversing the ball in the absence of cloud cover.

Sure to find plenty of rough against Australia’s left-handers, he is a decent bet at 11/4 with Coral to be top England wicket-taker.

Unlike those commentators, however, I’m not as pessimistic about the chances of Australia’s bowlers – provided they can keep themselves fit.

At 4/1 Mitchell Starc appears to be the pick of a not-so-bad bunch, particularly given England’s struggles against tall left armers.

The obvious choice to be top series batsman for the visitors is Michael Clarke, who is their most effective run-maker in the five day game.

Yet, with doubts about his fitness too and continuing fall-out from the sacking of Mickey Arthur, quotes of 15/8 look a little short.

I’m tempted to turn instead to veteran Chris Rogers, who shares his skipper’s appetite for runs – albeit on the county circuit rather than the international one. And 5/1 seems good value about a player who has already hit 790 runs in English conditions this summer.

But on the assumption England will dominate the series it makes sense to have a fall-back, each way option in wicket-keeper Brad Haddin at 12/1.

Unlike many of his inexperienced team-mates he has been here before, hitting 360 runs in the 2010-11 series and 278 in four games in the 2009 one.

As his opposite number Matthew Prior proved in New Zealand this spring, rearguard actions are often the preserve of wicket-keepers.

And if England have their way it will be back foot all the way for these Aussies.

■ Pointers…

Buy Alastair Cook ton-ups at 66 with Sporting Index
Graeme Swann top England series wicket-taker at 5/2 with Coral
Mitchell Starc top Australia series wicket-taker at 4/1 general
Brad Haddin top Australia series batsman at 12/1 e/w with Ladbrokes