England pushed their status as favourites for the Ashes to the limit on Sunday as they toiled under the Nottinghamshire sunshine to a 14-run victory in the first Test with Australia – despite being clear favourites heading into the game.
With more experience and better players at their disposal, Alastair Cook’s men were expected to bulldoze Australia and take the first Test with ease. Certainly, the Ashes betting odds suggested this match was a one-horse race but Australia proved their mettle and almost snuck a 1-0 lead.
The problem with England is that they do not cope well with the pressure of being favourites. Under Andrew Strauss, they won successive Ashes Tests, including a resounding 3-1 victory Down Under, yet since then the status has got to them.
Last summer, South Africa came to town hoping to steal the number one Test ranking from under Strauss’ nose. Amid a furore of controversy and poor performances, England lost the series 2-0, their ranking, their captain and their dignity – despite being favourites heading into the clash.
Fast forward four months and the same England (bar Strauss) headed to India, where they were clear underdogs in the online betting world. Maybe the pressure was off – after all no England team had won on the Indian subcontinent in 28 years – and Alastair Cook batted with freedom while his spinners did the job with the ball in hand.
Beating India was a huge coup for England and proved this squad has the capacity to take anyone, anywhere. Confidence was high heading into a tour of New Zealand yet it dissipated in an instant when the team lost Graeme Swann through injury.
Again, favourites England slipped up as they drew the series 0-0. Although they came back to defeat New Zealand at home in May, the fact they struggle to cope with the favourites tag is still a concern.
When the teams emerge from the Lords’ pavilion on Thursday, most fans who bet on the Ashes will have England down for the win – yet don’t be too certain against this plucky Australian side that almost caused a bowling collapse in the second innings.