The Slip Catcher

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The fifth and final Test between India and England should get under way in Chennai despite the area being struck by Cyclone Vardah in recent days. Winds of up to 100mph and torrential rain have wreaked havoc in the area and parts of the M A Chidambaram Stadium – where the action is due to start on Friday – have also been quite badly damaged.

With the hosts having already long since wrapped up the five-match series, and following England’s sorry capitulation in Mumbai, this game is really about damage limitation for the Three Lions, who are as big as 11/2 for the win. Yet surely only the most blindly optimistic Englishman would consider a lump at said odds in the run up to Christmas given what we know. And what we know is that English batsmen cannot read Ravi Ashwin. After England posted 400 in their first innings the draw (advised at 5/1 on these very pages the other week) was backed in. However thanks to the brilliance of Ashwin and Virat Kohli England became just the third team in Test history to lose by an innings after knocking over 400 in their first innings.

Indeed such has been India’s dominance in recent weeks any other outcome than a 4-0 series win for the hosts now looks a rather fanciful notion. The uncertainty about the weather in Chennai is the only reason India are not bigger ‘stick ons’ in the betting, with the hosts a top price 8/13 shot and the draw at 3/1. Those odds look just about spot on so it’s Captain Cook who is going to carry our cash this week. Granted the England skipper has not covered himself in glory on this tour either with the bat or with his captaincy, which had been less than imaginative at times to say the least. But Cook, who turns 32 on Christmas Day, is a dour, ballsy b**tard who will want to leave his mark here knowing the next time he will be playing five-day cricket for England will be in the middle of summer 2017. He’s a 7/2 poke to be top England batsmen in the fifth Test and that looks a decent shout given it looks a straight shoot out between himself and the mercurial Joe Root.

The fifth Test may be a dead rubber but while that’s winding down the excitement will be ramped right up Down Under with the return of the sixth edition of the Big Bash League. Picking a winner for this particular T20 pyjama party is never easy as last year’s renewal proved when Sydney Thunder went from whipping boys to champions in one astonishing tournament. They had the sensational batting prowess of Usman Khawaja to thank for last season but if the Thunder go back-to-back and come up trumps again this year with their current squad I will happily eat my own a**e hair with cucumber on a nice bit of Ryvita.

The key to turning a profit in the Big Bash is to side with teams less likely to be ravaged by international call ups. On paper for example the Sydney Sixers have perhaps the best squad in the whole tournament and you would question why they aren’t automatic favourites with the bookies? The answer is they will lose arguably their whole frontline bowling attack and some key batsmen thanks to the sheer number of players who will be called up for Australian Test and ODI duties.

My pick for glory this year are the Melbourne Stars, a team perennially knocking on the BBL door but who have yet to win the trophy. Skippered by the classy David Hussey, they have some serious firepower in their ranks in the shape of Glenn Maxwell and Kevin Pietersen. The latter has been in fine form in this format over in South Africa recently and will be relishing a return to Oz.


Yet arguably the Stars’ greatest strength is their solid and varied bowling attack with quality bowlers such as Adam Zampa, Scott Boland, Michael Beer and Ben Hilfenhaus all worth their weight in gold. The only question mark around them is whether they have the cojones to finally get over the line as their finals record remains fairly shocking. But they have a solid, varied and mega talented team who look well worth a nibble at 5/1 this year.

Bilko’s Banker: Melbourne Stars to win BBL at 5/1 (Boylesports)

Next Best: Cook to be top England batsman at 7/2 (bet365)

Outside Edge: Andre Russell to hit most tournament sixes at 12/1 (bet365)

By Derek Bilton