England are putting their whites on again. There’s been a lot of limited overs cricket since Trevor Bayliss’ side last played the longer format, but that break will have been welcome after another woeful Ashes down under.
The tourists are favourites heading into the series with New Zealand, despite struggling in Australia. The additional lateral movement will aid England’s bowlers, while the return of Ben Stokes gives balance to the line-up and an extra wicket-taking option with the ball.
The First Test of this series is a day-night affair at Auckland. We saw in Australia that the Kookaburra ball hoops around a fair bit more than normal under lights, with that twilight period being perhaps the best to bowl in the entire series.
It will be a little different in New Zealand, however, where the fast-bowlers will have more weapons available to them throughout the day.
This series has the potential to be a real showdown of quicks. Stuart Broad might be removed from new ball duty to give Chris Woakes a chance while it’s still swinging, but England have a formidable seam attack that is only bolstered by the return of Stokes, who is expected to be at full fitness..
James Anderson will still be the most feared bowler for the hosts. His 52 wickets at 27.11 in Tests against the Kiwis is hardly terrifying given his career record, but I still like the 9/2 price on the king of swing to be top bowler in the first innings given the favourable conditions.
Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Trent Boult can rival England’s attack, however. The trio are as good as it gets in world cricket on their day. Boult took 27 Test wickets at 24.77 in 2017 and has a great record against England.
The left-armer notched a five-wicket haul against England at Lord’s the last time these two teams faced. Wagner, too, had a brilliant 2017, including a 7 for 39 performance against the West Indies. He is a decent option for top bowler in the first innings at 11/2.
England’s batsmen are vulnerable. The order is still unknown after several Ashes collapses, which means Lancashire’s Liam Livingston could get a place in the middle-order.
Alastair Cook is in need of a good series but needs to find a way to cope with the left-arm-over attack of Wagner and Boult. His top batsman price of 13/2 does not represent good value.
It’s no surprise that Joe Root leads the top batsman betting. Root and Kane Williamson are the lynchpins of each sides batting, their respective performances will go a long way to deciding this First Test.
The most appealing price of an English batsman to top score in the first innings, though, is Jonny Bairstow.
The wicketkeeper-batsman has been superb in one-day cricket of late and could be required to counter-attack if England struggle against the new ball. The Ashes ended poorly for Bairstow, but the 11/1 price is still a very good one.
Of the hosts’ batsmen, Ross Taylor is the standout price at 13/2. The veteran averages over 56 on home soil and passed fifty in four of seven Test innings in 2017, albeit against weaker opposition.
England have been a wildly inconsistent Test team over the last couple of years. They have won just two of their last eight Test series away from home and drew their previous series in New Zealand back in 2013.
However, the return of Stokes means so much to England. That’s enough to make me back Root’s men.
TIP: England to win or match to be drawn @ 11/25
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*