Take a punt on the Three Lions’ quest for Ashes victory

IT IS hard to know what England fans are enjoying more. Their team’s dominance down under, or the pitiful showing by Australia so far.

Going into the series, England were the better team on paper, but most observers expected more from the Aussies in their own back yard – a fact that was reflected in the hosts’ marginal favouritism with the bookmakers.

Before the action began, Sporting Index had set Australia’s supremacy at two points, where 10 points are awarded to the series winner and five points per Test won. The smart money was certainly on selling Australia’s series supremacy – Sporting Index now offers England’s supremacy at 11-14.

England have set an Olympic Games-worth of records in their last two innings. The two men under greatest pressure – Kevin Pietersen and, in particular, Alastair Cook – have dispelled any worries about their selection with run-scoring of the finest quality.

Pietersen and Cook’s performances pay witness to their undoubted quality and reserves of concentration. But they also highlight how weak the Australia bowling attack is. The likes of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne wouldn’t have given England’s most vulnerable players such an easy ride – and the clamour for the 41-year-old Warne to come out of retirement speaks volumes.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting’s assessment of the second Test in Adelaide describes it most succinctly and accurately: “They out-batted us, they out-bowled and out-fielded us the entire game,” he said.

Going into this week’s third Test in Perth at the Waca ground, which starts in the middle of the night at 2.30am on Thursday, the early weather forecast is dry and sunny. Australian batsman Simon Katich is out with an injury, while other changes to the Aussie team are needed and can be expected.

Another victory will give England an unassailable lead, guaranteeing possession of the little urn until the summer of 2013 at the earliest. Retaining the trophy might have been enough for Andrew Strauss’s men before the series began; however, his sights will now be set more than a little higher.

But England followers are a suspicious sort, whatever the sport. After all, they have seen more than enough episodes of paralysing stage fright over the years. The note of caution here is that the Three Lions have only ever won once at the Waca – in 1978 – and they last avoided defeat on this remote ground in 1986, during their last successful tour of Oz.

England must overcome Stuart Broad’s enforced absence, but even that task looks easier than might have been expected after his relatively negligible contribution before an abdominal injury cut short his involvement.

Australia’s selection problems are far greater and their biggest problem is finding the firepower to take 20 wickets. They haven’t even been close so far.

The Waca is typically a results pitch with approximately one in five games ending in a positive outcome. With 25 points for the winner, 10 each in the event of a draw, and zero for the loser, Sporting Index has set win index spreads of 10-11.5 for Australia and 12-13.5 for England, which leaves no room for a stalemate for buyers at either price. I wouldn’t be put off by that and, even accounting for a reaction from Australia, this pivotal Test – on a field where the hosts have lost twice in their last three outings – really looks like being England’s to lose.

In terms of individual performances, it is probably best to leave the Aussie players until the team is announced. England-wise, punters who think Pietersen and Cook haven’t emptied the tank just yet will be pleased to hear that both men scored well on this ground four years ago. KP hit 70 in the first innings and was still standing on 60 in the second, after Cook had hit 116. Then Warne ran riot as England fell short of an unlikely 557-run target.

With their previous performances leading to increased expectations, it might be an idea for spread betters to buy Ian Bell’s runs at 80 with Sporting Index instead. The Warwickshire man is in decent nick with a 76 and a 68 not out in his two innings so far this series. He also scored 87 on his last Test appearance in Perth.

POINTERS
● Buy England’s third Test win index at 13.5 with Sporting Index.

● Buy Ian Bell runs at 80 with Sporting Index.

ASHES STATISTICS
● So far this series, England’s Alastair Cook has clocked up the most runs with 450 under his belt, followed by Australia’s Michael Hussey with 340.

● England’s Steven Finn and Graeme Swann have both taken nine wickets but Australian Peter Siddle has the best bowling rate this series at 6-54.

● The most successful opening partnership so far was in the first Test at Brisbane with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook managing 188 runs between them.

● Since the beginning of 2009, England’s No 6 batsmen have averaged an outstanding 54.28 runs while Australia’s sixth batsmen average only 35.29 runs.

● England is currently third in the world Test rankings while Australia has fallen to fourth.

● The win-loss ratio in Ashes Tests (up until the last series) stands at 122 wins for Australia to 97 wins for England with 86 draws. This has accelerated in favour of Australia in the last 30 years – before the 1989 series began, the win-loss ratio was almost even, with 87 wins for Australia to England’s 86.

● The greatest number of runs ever scored in an Ashes test by an individual was 364 by Len Hutton in 1938.

● Don Bradman holds the record for the best batting average in the Ashes. He scored 5,028 runs against England with an average of 89.78 per innings.

● Australian Shane Warne is the highest wicket taker in Ashes series. He has 172 wickets from 31 Ashes matches at an average of 22.30.

● Since 2000, five Tests have been held. Australia have won three of these while England have taken two.

● England last won the Ashes in Australia in 1986-87 when they beat the home team by three tests to one.

● England won the last Ashes by winning two Tests, drawing two and losing just one.