India and Australia renew hostilities in the third Test which starts in Indore on Wednesday morning – read Richard Mann’s preview here.
The Man of the Match market can be a tough mistress, and readers of these pages were dealt a cruel blow when last week’s 9/1 advised selection, RAVI ASWHIN, was pipped to the award by his spin partner in crime, Ravi Jadeja.
It’s generally unwise to dwell too much on bad beats, but having engineered both of Australia’s batting collapses, taking out Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith in the same over in the first innings, and then claimed three quick wickets in the second dig to reduce the tourists to 95-5 from a promising 65-1, it’s fair argue that Ashwin did plenty of heavy lifting throughout the match.
Add to that his 114-run partnership with Axar Patel that rescued India in their own batting innings, and the case for Ashwin was strong, right up until Jadeja mopped up Australia’s tail in the second innings, picking up the last five wickets to finish with 10 in the match. A defeat from the jaws of victory.
Ashwin ready to go again
With Sky Bet holding firm for the third Test which starts on Wednesday morning in Indore, I make no apologies for taking the bait and reloading at 9/1.
The case for Ashwin remains incredibly solid. At the halfway point in the series, he has 14 wickets at an average of 13.92, while he is averaging 30.00 with the bat. With India strong odds-on favourites to make it 3-0 in Indore, and they can’t get short enough, he seems sure to be firmly in the mix for the Man of the Match award yet again.
The other significant factor is the hold he seemingly has over the opposition: he has now taken 103 wickets against Australia home and away, and on home turf in particular, the tourists look devoid of answers when facing the off-spinner.
With David Warner flying home, coupled with Cameron Green’s return to full fitness, that will at least give the Australians another right-hander with which to tackle Ashwin, but he has bowled beautifully to likes of Smith and Labuschagne already – often changing his angle by bowling around the wicket to fine effect – and there should be plenty more success for him in the offing.
The cards didn’t quite fall his way last time in terms of picking up those cheap lower-order wickets that often count for more than they should, but that could easily change here, and the current odds still represent value.
Rohit ready to fire as Australia wilt
I do want a second string to my bow, though, and with Jadeja passed over on the basis I thought he was outbowled by Ashwin in Delhi, I’m going to add ROHIT SHARMA to the staking plan.
Rohit is already India’s leading runscorer in the series following brilliant century in the first Test, and having missed plenty of cricket through injury over the last year, he now looks right back to his best.
I still have him down as India’s best player of spin and while taken with how good Virat Kohli has looked in this series, it’s the current captain who is preferred on what we’ve seen so far.
Furthermore, Rohit has long been the type of player who gets better as a series progresses. When India toured England in 2021, Rohit improved through that summer and finished with a hundred at the Oval which earned him the Man of the Match award. When England toured India a few months later, Rohit started slowly before scoring a century in the second Test and then maintained that form for the remainder of the series.
In sum, I certainly don’t think he’s finished yet and while the bowlers have made the headlines so far, when New Zealand played a two-match series in India in late 2021, both Man of the Match awards were won by batsmen who made hundreds.
Clearly, Ashwin has plenty going for him, but having a saver on one of the home batsmen at double-figure odds, in this case 12/1, makes perfect sense.
Smith not done with but Ashwin threat remains
The final conundrum is whether to go in again on Steve Smith after a couple of low scores in Delhi.
10/3 is now on offer for Smith in the top Australia first-innings batsman market, and the carrot has certainly been dangled, but we’ve already got Smith onside for top Australia series batsman, and I’m not sure I want to lay out further investment.
That’s not to say Smith isn’t a fine player of spin – he most definitely is. He came into this series averaging 60 in India, and I’m sure he’ll find a way to combat Ashwin at some stage. But Smith rarely sweeps, so to see him dismissed in that manner in the second dig last week was concerning.
The other thing to consider is how well Peter Handscomb has played since returning to the side in conditions he clearly enjoys.
Handscomb is a good player of spin and batted beautifully for his unbeaten 72 in the first innings in Indore, backing up a promising showing in the first Test. He looks as comfortable as any of the visiting batsmen on what we’ve seen in the first two matches.
His chance must be respected, and quotes of 7/1 probably don’t do him justice, for all I’m happy to sit this one out and concentrate on the Man of the Match market.
Preview posted at 2140 GMT on 26/02/2023
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