Cocky Poms face moment of truth
NEVER has the hype around the England cricket team been this huge.
England opens the ICC World Cup on Thursday night against South Africa in London as the raging $3 favourite with Ladbrokes to win the tournament.
Yes, England. The team that has never won the World Cup in 11 attempts and last reached the final in Melbourne way back in 1992.
Yes, England. The team that was knocked out of the last World Cup by Bangladesh and lost to Ireland in India in 2011.
But this is the new England. An all-powerful side under captain Eoin Morgan that has reached 300 runs in a one-day international innings more times than any other nation in the past two years.
It's biff and bash from ball one with openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy through to the turbo-boost provided by Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali in the middle-order. Only the Beatles have had more big hits in the UK.
"We're the best prepared England team we've ever had going into a World Cup," former England captain Michael Vaughan trumpeted on BBC Radio 5 Live this week.
However, danger lurks from the start.
South Africa is ranked No.3 in the world in one-day cricket and boasts a bowling line-up to seriously challenge England's blasters, even without the injured Dale Steyn (shoulder).
That's why I wouldn't touch England at $1.44 on Thursday night or the $3 to lift the trophy.
Both prices are too short.
I still think England will beat South Africa, but look for a price around $1.80 in the run before launching.
Especially as the forecast is for cloudy, humid conditions in London, which should suit Proteas fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo.
South Africa has won 15 of their past 20 ODIs, further reason not to take the $1.44 on England.
But there's value in most runs/most wickets markets.
Quinton de Kock has top-scored in seven of South Africa's past 20 ODIs.
And fast-medium seamer Phehlukwayo has led the Proteas' wicket-taking three times and halved it on three more occasions in the same period.
Phehlukwayo warmed up beautifully with 4-36 from seven overs in a practice match against Sri Lanka in Cardiff last Friday.
They are $26 to top the runs/wickets double for South Africa with the TAB. Or you could take them on their own - de Kock ($4 for most SA runs); Phehlukwayo ($6 for most SA wickets).
I certainly wouldn't be backing Morgan to top England's batting after he suffered a fractured left index finger at practice just a week ago. He'll play, but will he be at his best?