Swann To Continue Oval Love Affair

Graham SwanBetting on the plain old result of the Fifth Test between Ashes rivals England and Australia is impossible because of a variety of reasons but, thankfully, there is an exotic bet that historical and current form suggests is worth a punt.

The Fifth Test is a dead rubber because England leads the Ashes 3-0 after its 74-run victory over Australia at the Riverside Ground last week. That the final match of the series is a dead rubber is just one of the reasons why punters should not try to predict the game’s outcome.

Another reason is the contrasting results of Test matches and County Championship games at the Fifth Test’s venue, The Oval, in recent times. Each of the last five Tests at the Surrey ground has produced a positive outcome. Indeed, only two of the last 17 Tests at The Oval have ended in a draw and that data goes back to 1995. But The Oval has hosted five County Championship matches this year and four of them have failed to produce a winner. Actually, none of those four games was close to being something other than a draw.

Given the fragility of the batting line-ups of both England and Australia – the English have not scored more than 375 in an innings during the Ashes series and the Australians have passed 300 just once in eight attempts – the temptation is to lay the draw or back one of the teams, probably the home side because it believes in itself more than its opponent.

But, in all honesty, the Fifth Test is a no-bet match from the perspective of punting on the result. Bookmakers appear to have their odds right. None of the three options appeals.

However, there are some attractive odds relating to Graeme Swann’s performance in the Fifth Test that are worth more than a cursory glance. Bookmakers are offering odds of around 3.75 that Swann is England’s leading wicket taker, 5.50 that Swann takes more wickets than anyone else in the game and 11.00 that Swann is the official man of the match.

The early reports are that the Fifth Test pitch will be as a dry as the Sahara Desert and offer assistance to the slow bowlers from day one. Swann is the only slow bowler of genuine world class in either team. Monty Panesar is on the outer with England after released by his County Championship side, Sussex, following a nightclub incident, while Nathan Lyon is the latest in the long line of Australia spinners who is not fit to tie the shoelaces of Shane Warne. Lyon gets a start because he is the best of a bad bunch. First Test sensation Ashton Agar bats better than he bowls.

Swann has an excellent record at The Oval. Swann has played four Tests for England at the venue, taking 24 wickets, including six for 106 in India’s second innings two years ago, at an average of 26.45. None of England’s other bowlers comes close to matching Swann’s Test numbers at The Oval, with top bowler betting favourite James Anderson performing particularly poorly. Anderson has taken only 26 wickets in his eight Tests at The Oval and, also, he is out of form.

With The Oval pitch forecast to turn at right angles, Swann is an excellent bet to be England’s top wicket taker. Swann took eight Australia wickets in 2009 (two more than his nearest rival), seven Pakistan wickets in 2010 (three more than his nearest rival) and nine India wickets in 2011 (five more than his nearest rival). England had a disaster against South Africa in 2012, taking only two wickets in the game and losing by an innings and 12 runs. Tim Bresnan and Anderson shared the top England wicket-taker honours.

Back Swann at odds of around 3.75 to be England’s top wicket taker in the Fifth Test. For the record, Swann has been the match’s top wicket taker in three of his four Tests at The Oval so the odds of around 5.50 about that happening again are interesting as well. After all, Australia does not have a top-quality spinner and England is the favourite to win the game. The man-of-the-match punt may be a little bit too much of a gamble, though. One really ought to have a clear view about the result of the game before getting involved.

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