Chicago Bulls @ Portland Trail Blazers – Moda Center at 03:00
The Portland Trail Blazers have been sparked by how well Damian Lillard plays and they will need him at his best if they are going to make it three wins in a row since being blown out by the LA Clippers. Playing at home has always been an edge for Portland even during their down seasons and they have opened 4-2 here this season.
The Trail Blazers are scoring plenty of points for the most part (the LA Clippers game was an exception) but Defensively they have struggled and the last four teams have all scored 105 points or more. One of the issues they have is being dominated on the glass and that is an area this veteran Chicago team will feel they have the edge.
There is also a lot of pressure on the starters for Portland as they not getting the production off the bench that can help ease the demands of Lillard. The Chicago rotation has been better although Doug McDermott looks likely to sit in this one, and the Bulls can keep this one close if they can get enough from Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade who will be challenged by Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Chicago have picked up their play on the Defensive side of the court too and they should have enough to stay with a Portland team who are just 1-5 against the spread at home this season. Neither team has really played well when facing the better teams in the NBA to open this season, but I do think Chicago having the edge on the rebounding stats as well as the Defensive side of the court swings the pendulum their way just enough with the points.
India v England, 1st Test – Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium at 03:30 live on Sky Sports 2 and Sky Sports Mix
Apart from the Ashes, five match Test series are about as rare these days as a Kumar Dharmasena correct umpiring decision. This is the first time India has hosted a five match series in the games longest form since Pakistan visited, some 29 years ago. It’s also the first time England have contested an away five match series (other than against Australia) since touring South Africa in 2004/2005.
Rajkot hosts the first match before the series head to Vizag, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai. There are bound to be large ebbs and flows that accompany any elongated Test series, but make no mistake, this promises to be the toughest of assignments for Alastair Cook’s men over the coming weeks.
Virat Kohli’s India are on a roll in Test matches, unbeaten in 11 matches against 4 different Test playing nations. At home they haven’t lost since England turned them over in Calcutta, all the way back in 2012. England meanwhile arrive days after gifting Bangladesh their biggest Test match win in their history and a one-all series draw.
A big part of India’s success’ at home against the likes of Australia, South Africa and more recently New Zealand has been the nature of the surfaces curated to undoubtedly suit the strengths of the home side.
Rajkot might be a new venue to Test cricket but expect much of the same – turn from day one and plenty of men around the bat – especially when Ravi Ashwin is bowling.
Rajkot is steaming hot at present – scorching sunshine and temperatures in the mid to late 30c’s can be expected for all five days – if the match goes its entirety, of course.
The Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Rajkot, hosts its first ever Test match this week. Because of this we have to turn to the Ranji trophy for recent first and second innings performances at this venue –
Recent First Innings First Class scores – 551, 239, 102, 238, 519
Recent Second Innings First Class scores – 437, 258, 148, 226, 273
Recent Results in First Class cricket here – Draw, Draw, W (side bat 1st), W (side bat 1st), W (side bat 1st)
Batting in the 1st innings of the match in this period – Average 329
Batting in the 2nd innings of the match in this period – Average 268
NOTE – (we’ve ignored 3rd and 4th match innings for the purposes of this column which has been written for each sides 1st innings of the Test)
Form Guide & First Inns Runs
Here are India’s last ten 1st innings scores in Tests, plus result in brackets –
India are without Shikar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma for the foreseeable, so expect Gautam Gambhir to continue at the top of the order. Murali Vijay averages 39.7 in 42 Test matches and will be keen to cement his place in the XI given the injuries to others. Chet Pujara looks back to his best with a century in the recent series win against New Zealand and an average of 74, whilst captain Kohli (below) can surely only improve on what is a dire record against England. Ajinkya Rahane has a Test ton versus Cook’s men but will be keen to improve on an overall average of 33 that is his lowest against all Test nations expect Sri Lanka. Wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha’s recent performances have stopped even the most hardened of Dhoni’s supporters craving their hero – Saha averaged 112 against New Zealand with two fifties in three knocks – this on the back of the away series in the West Indies in which he scored his first century. Ravi Ashwin will surely be the main man with the ball. The canny off-spinner took 27 wickets in the 3 match New Zealand series and now has 220 wickets in 39 Test matches. Ravi Jadeja is ever dangerous is the surface is low and slow with his slow left armers whilst seam should come from Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.
England can’t say they are not prepared for this series. The players that perform in ODI’s and Test matches have been in Asia for well over a month now and of course the red ball specialists come in straight from a win in Chittagong and a loss in Dhaka. Alastair Cook had a quiet series against Bangladesh but arrives in India with a career batting average of 54.2 against the hosts. Cook debuted in Nagpur way back in 2006 and has scored 5 centuries and 7 fifties in 20 Tests versus India. Ben Duckett is likely to start the series as his opener after a busy 56 in the unsuccessful run chase in Dhaka whilst Joe Root’s 98 runs in 4 innings in the ‘Desh was way down on his expectations. Will Gary Ballance get another gig? A high score of 9 and just 24 runs suggest he could make way for Jos Buttler. If Buttler comes in, expect Jonny Bairstow to slip up to four in the order. Ben Stokes starred in Bangladesh with 128 runs and 11 wickets whilst fellow all-rounder Moeen Ali will have a big part to play with bat and ball. Moeen also struck 11 times in Bangladesh but his economy rate of 3.3 an over needs to come down. Gareth Batty could return after missing out in Dhaka whilst Broad (below) will lead the Jimmy Anderson-less seam attack alongside Chris Woakes.
Ones to Watch
Virat Kohli is a monster in modern day cricket terms. An ever improving India Test career average of 45 is only sub-fifty due to his surprisingly poor record against England. In 17 innings, Kohli averages just 20.1 with just one century and zero fifties. This will surely only improve over these five matches, starting this week in Rajkot.
Stuart Broad bowled England to victory in Chittagong with a mature display that befitted his 360 career Test wickets. Broad debuted in Sri Lanka some nine years ago and with no Jimmy Anderson for at least the first Test, his experience will be vital for Alastair Cook to turn to when the going gets tough.
First Innings Runs Markets
If India bat first I recommend backing any OVERS RUNS around the 300-305 mark.
If England bat first I recommend backing any UNDER RUNS around the 300-305 mark.
Top First Innings Batsman Market
Chet Pujara made a double ton during the 1st Test of the last series England played in India. He looks decent value to top score for the hosts at 5.0 here.
This could be a straight shoot out between Cook and Root all tour, but lets look down the order for now until either of England’s big two show signs of their best form. Jos Buttler is as high as 13.0 to top score here and looks a great bet – we get stakes back if he doesn’t get a place in the final XI.
Sacramento Kings @ Orlando Magic – Amway Center at 23:00
It has been a tough road trip for the Sacramento Kings who have been beaten at the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat already, but they were a little unfortunate in the last game in Miami. Now they head to the Orlando Magic and I am not sure that the Magic should be considered a favourite in the game.
Orlando are still trying to find an Offensive groove with some new faces in the line up although they should match up well with the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins in particular. They have the size of Bismarck Biyombo, Nicola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka to give Cousins problems, but the Magic have struggled to defend the three point arc and that is where Sacramento could open things up.
That has seen the Magic struggle on the Defensive side of the court and they have allowed at least 101 points in every game they have played this season. It makes winning games and covering spreads difficult and the Kings have a very strong 4-1 record against the spread in recent games in Orlando.
The Kings have not been scoring points easily themselves, but I think the last two match ups were difficult for them. This one should be a little better but that will need more out of veterans Ty Lawson and Matt Barnes, but both could have more spacing for shots from beyond the arc which can be important for them. It isn’t a lot of points, but I do think the Sacramento Kings can cover on Thursday.
Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers – Quicken Loans Arena at 00:00
While the Boston Celtics were battling the Chicago Bulls and winning a tough home game, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the night off. LeBron James and JR Smith were two of their players who took in Game 7 of the World Series which would have sapped some emotion from both players when you consider how that game went down, although I think facing the Celtics will inspire this entire Cavaliers squad.
There has been no love lost between these teams in recent years and the current rosters had a major falling out in the Play Offs two seasons ago when Boston were accused of deliberately injuring Kevin Love. That was part of the reason why Cleveland fell to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals as James was left as the last of the Three Muskateers and Cleveland won’t need much to get up for facing the Celtics.
Playing on a back to back has not bothered Boston in recent times with a really solid record against the spread in this spot, but they are missing Al Horford and Jae Crowder which is a big problem for them. Going up against a Cleveland team who are playing really well on the Defensive side of the court without two of their better Offensive players and I think that shows up here.
The Cleveland bench is playing well enough too and they are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games against Boston at home. This does look a lot of points at first glance, but the Celtics have to be feeling the game against Chicago on Wednesday and missing Horford and Crowder is tough to overcome.