Australians unlikely to offer value for money even on a clean sweep

SPORTS BETTING: Cricket

The English and Australian cricket teams will be seeing a great deal of each other over the course of the summer, but according to the bookmakers, the best chance for a victory by Mike Atherton's side is almost upon us. When the tourists take to the field at Headingley on Thursday they will have only three days of first-class tour competition behind them, and William Hill make England just 11-10 chances to take advantage of any jet-lag that might still be lingering in their limbs.

Even then, of course, the Australians are still favourites, at 4-6, and a little shorter still to win the series, (Ladbrokes and Hills go 4-7 Australia, 5-4 England). The 15-man England squad announced yesterday included the Hollioake brothers and omitted Nasser Hussain, but it still has a worryingly familiar look, given England's inability to beat all but the most hopeless opposition in recent seasons.

The tourists, despite their lack of match practice in England, are surely talented and experienced enough to do themselves justice this week. No one can be blamed for avoiding a bet at odds-on, but equally it would be foolish to support England simply because they are odds-against. One alternative for fans of the Australians will be to bet on a 3-0 clean sweep of the series, but winning-margin prices are as yet unavailable and are still unlikely to offer much value.

The cricket internationals dominate the week, but for the fans of six football teams, the season goes on. Taking prices from Ladbrokes and Coral alone, the outright book on the first play-off final, between Northampton and Swansea, is betting to 100 per cent, with both sides available at evens, and since consistency has not been the Welsh side's longest suit this season, their opponents make some appeal at that price. In the Second Division final, meanwhile, Crewe (5-6 with Ladbrokes) are taken to finally break free of the lower half of the League after many years of near-misses.

TEXACO TROPHY ONE-DAY INTERNATIONAL (Headingley, Thursday): 6-5 England (Ladbrokes, Coral), 4-6 Australia (Hills). Series betting: 4-7 Australia, 5-4 England.

THIRD DIVISION PLAY-OFF FINAL: evens Northampton (Ladbrokes) and Swansea (Coral).

SECOND DIVISION PLAY-OFF: 5-6 Crewe (Coral), evens Brentford (Ladbrokes).

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