Jimmy to swing through Indian order!
In fitting fashion the 2000th ever Test match takes place at the home of Cricket as India open their Test tour at Lord's. The last Test on the hallowed turf of Lord's saw a resolute Sri Lankan batting line up dig in on the final day in order to salvage a draw, but in recent fixtures Lord's has been a result pitch with 5 of the last 6 Test's producing a result, however there were four straight stalemates before those 6.
The weather forecast is showing plenty of cloud and light showers so as long as there is not a great deal of time lost due to the weather the bowlers should be able to exploit the swing conditions to force a result, despite the draw currently being slightly odds-on at 5/6.
England have looked a very settled and confident side under the guidance of Andy Flower and will be determined to start well as they attempt to achieve their long running objective of being the number 1 ranked Test nation. Andrew Strauss retakes the reigns and the captain is going to be under the spotlight after struggling for form. He is starting to get a bit of a hoodoo of dismissals from left arm seamers and will be facing a world class one in Zaheer Khan. Outside of Strauss, England's top order have been in superb form with the slight exception of Kevin Pietersen, although he looked like his old swaggering self in the third Test v Sri Lanka.
On the bowling front England have again looked a solid unit and there is only Stuart Broad struggling for form, however he did manage to take some wickets for Notts at County Championship level. Most of the talking points in the build up to this series regarded India's reluctance to use the DRS, they have now agreed to use it - but only for caught behind decisions which may hamper Graeme Swann as 42 of his Test victims have been by LBW. He's still the favourite for top England bowler at 9/4 but James Anderson should be the main man from the England attack with perfect conditions for a bit of reverse swing and is 5/2.
The Indian perspective would see this as an historic tour and most likely the last time we will see Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman playing on these shores as retirements will soon see a changing of the guard in the Indian middle order. The Indians are the number 1 side and where England aim to be, they struggled in a warm up match against Somerset but that was to be expected as a lot of the big names didn't make the trip to the West Indies for the recent series.
The injury to Sehwag will see the top of the order juggled but India have more than enough quality to cover him and will still have a solid order capable of piling up runs if the bowling is anything other than perfect. Tendulkar heads to Lord's hoping to complete a century of centuries on a ground where his current top score sits at just 37 and with favourable bowling conditions I expect him to be waiting to reach that incredible milestone.
The Indian's will be able to put plenty of pressure to England's order having 3 of the top 10 in the ICC Rankings with Zaheer Khan (5/2), Harbhajan Singh (7/2) and Instant Sharma (7/2) who dominate the top bowler market. The Lord's conditions should suit Zaheer to a tee and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him collect a 5-for (1st innings - 7/1).
From a punting perspective we have a whopping 35 markets on the first Test with a whole lot more to follow when we go in-play on Thursday morning. My most appealing bets are:
England @ 2/1 for the match: The draw has gone too short for my liking and with England high on form and confidence the England win seems great value.
Ian Bell @ 5/1 for Top England Batsman: With Alastair Cook in such magnificent form Ian Bells run of form has gone somewhat under the radar. He has 5 consecutive Test half centuries after scores of 115, 103*, 52, 57* and 119* which included both innings v Sri Lanka at Lord's
Suresh Raina @ 8/1 for Top India Batsman: All the hype is around "the little master" and so the value lies elsewhere. Raina had a few good knocks in the Caribbean and can be the surprise in the India squad.
Zaheer Khan and James Anderson both @ 7/1 for 5 wickets in the 1st innings: The toss should be a good one to win and stick the opposition in to take advantage of the swing on offer. Whoever bowls first will have the best chance and these two bowlers would be delighted to open on Thursday morning. Anderson will be wanting to make up for missing the Sri Lanka test here through injury and is a good bet for top England bowler at 5/2 too.