England look well set to take series lead at Trent Bridge

ROBIN HUTCHISON PREVIEWS THE OPENING INVESTEC ASHES TEST AND THE BEST SERIES BETS

THE waiting is nearly over as the most eagerly anticipated Test series begins at Trent Bridge this morning. It’s already been a memorable summer of sport and a third consecutive Ashes series triumph for England would cap it off.

There have been some epic battles between these two old rivals and it’s rare to see England head into the opening Test as short as 4/5 with Coral. This Australian line-up clearly isn’t one of the strongest touring parties and their 3/1 price with the same firm reflects that.

Nottingham will provide the backdrop for the first of five Tests as both sides look to take an early advantage.

Favourable weather conditions mean that we will likely head off to Lord’s with someone in the lead. The previous nine Test matches at Trent Bridge have all produced a result and England have won seven of those, including the last four on the spin.

Alastair Cook’s team has a settled feel to it with Joe Root’s promotion to opener and Jonny Bairstow’s inclusion the only unknowns in the batting department. A positive stand from Cook and Root will be key to England’s chances as it gives Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott the opportunity to keep the scoreboard ticking over at a decent pace.

Pietersen has continued to make good progress from his injury with an impressive knock of 177 for Surrey followed by a quick-fire 49 against Essex in the final warm-up fixture. With England’s superior Test experience and a strong run of results at Nottingham, I’m looking no further than Coral’s 4/5 for the hosts to open up a 1-0 series lead.

The Aussies’ preparations couldn’t have been in starker contrast to the hosts. However, since Darren Lehmann took charge there have been a few positive noises emanating from the Aussie camp to suggest they are turning a corner.

Shane Watson has hit 199 runs from two warm-up matches and will be an important wicket at the top of the order. However, it’s tough to look past Michael Clarke as the main man. Much like Pietersen, Clarke is recovering well from an injury and thrives in English conditions. He has scored 783 Test runs on English soil, at an average of 48.93 and a top score of 136.

Before the injury he proved Australia’s most consistent performer across the past 18 months with a huge average of 106. I’m keen to tip Clarke to be the leading Australian scorer in Nottingham at 3/1 with Paddy Power and his century against Worcestershire will only help his chances.

James Anderson spearheads England’s bowling attack and he’ll be the one to test Clarke’s powers of recovery. He clearly loves playing at the Nottinghamshire ground taking 39 wickets in six Tests. Trent Bridge tends to favour the pacemen and especially those who can swing the ball as his bowling average of 17.74 here would indicate. In the last Ashes series Anderson finished as leading wicket taker and Sporting Index have set his bowling index at 58 – a market that rewards bowlers with 10pts per wicket and 25 bonus pts for a five-wicket haul – for the opener. I would be a buyer at that price.

■ Pointers…

England at 4/5 with Coral
Michael Clarke top Australia batsman 3/1 with Paddy Power
Buy James Anderson bowling index at 58 with Sporting Index