Three Reasons Why You Should Watch (And Bet On) the Ashes

Steve Smith, Michael Clarke and David Warner of Australia (Getty)

The Ashes is cricket's most explosive and confrontational rivalry, and it's a series that defines England and Australia. It's a great series to watch, but also to bet on, with so many variations and permutations to take into account. We delve deeper into this historic clash of nations, to give you all the reasons you could need to stay glued to your screen, but also to place a few crafty bets.

1. It's The Ultimate Summer Sporting Occasion

You might have noticed, with Wimbledon, how the tournament just fits into the time of year so well. Somehow, the British sporting summer needs Andy Murray, Pimm's and strawberries and cream in order for it to feel authentic and real. The Ashes doesn't happen as often - in fact, it's generally held on a quadrennial cycle, a bit like the Olympics, with a series played in the summer in England, and then one-and-a-half years later in Australia. However, the wait makes it seem more important to both sets of fans.

Everyone remembers where they were when a certain Ashes event happened. The generations who were around to watch the 1981 series in England might remember Ian Botham's series-clinching slogs to the boundary. England fans certainly won't forget the open-top bus given to the 2005 Ashes-winning side, led by Michael Vaughan. Australian fans might be more inclined to recall the redemptive belting they gave England in 2006/07.

Whatever happens, it's always career-defining for the players, and always era-defining for the fans.

2. Plenty of Interesting Stories Behind This Series

England was beaten 5-0 in the last Ashes series, that took place in Australia. It was only the second time since World War Two that a team had completed a whitewash. The fallout from that series effectively ended the international careers of England coach Andy Flower and indirectly, England's best batsman, Kevin Pietersen. Flower's situation was clear-cut - he'd presided over failure and so had to step aside. Pietersen's fall from grace was after a review found his conduct to be wanting.

It could be said that England is still feeling the pain from the Ashes result - but there is hope. A really promising test series against New Zealand featured some new personnel and a more positive approach. A rare one-day series victory against the same country led to reports of English cricket being back from the dead.

Ironically, the death metaphor is where the "Ashes" name comes from. The English satirical newspaper The Sporting Times, in 1882, published an editorial declaring "The Death Of English Cricket" after Australia had triumphed at The Oval. An urn was created, with the ashes of one of the stumps from that match, and so a name was born from a joke.

Australia has reason to believe it can win again in England this summer and launch another round of national soul-searching in the country that invented cricket. Steve Smith, once considered a versatile man who could fill a variety of positions in the batting order, is now the established number three batsman and the world's current number one. Michael Clarke, after initial questions, seems to have become a captain of true authority.

Australia is a team of massive experience, with Clarke and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin having been part of that 2005 Ashes squad. Indeed, while England search around for an opening partnership that is good for 150 runs, 38 year-old Chris Rogers, who made his test debut in his thirties, is looking to round out his career in style this summer. While Australia may be, if one were to be unkind, an old squad, in cricket that scarcely matters - winning a match is as much about knowhow as it is about agility.

Finally, Captain James Cook may lay claim to having discovered Australia for Great Britain, but it is England captain Alastair Cook who has the most questions to answer in 2015. If he is to be known as a capable leader of men, this Ashes series will be the decisive factor. Having been kept on after such a crushing loss as in 2013/14, there really is no hiding place for the Essex batsman.

3. Betting is Wide Open

The place the Ashes is in right now - a dominant Australia full of great-but-ageing cricketers coming over to play a young, unproven England team - is the same place it was in when the 2005 Ashes began. That was one of the most exciting tournaments most people had seen, with virtually every match hinging on a bravura batting performance or a different bowler taking advantage of reverse swing to take five wickets.

This doesn't mean you should automatically bet on England to win the Ashes outright - of course you can, if you believe the evidence of statistics merits it. We'd recommend, instead, a more nuanced approach. Spread your deposit over a number of betting markets, bearing in mind that England is on its way back up, and Australia, as great a team as it is, has been at the top for some time - England will almost certainly win at least one test match, and from then, it's all about confidence and psychology.

Top Bets

Australia to win 3-2 is 16/1 at Ladbrokes

Steve Smith is 5/2 to be top Australia batsman at Betfair

A double-chance bet on England/Drawn Series is 2/1 at Bet365