Bookies fight shy of Warwickshire

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Lara-less they may be, but such has been Warwickshire's domination of all forms of cricket during the last two seasons that you will not find better than 6-1 about Dermot Reeve's side for the first competition of the new season, the Benson and Hedges Cup.

The layers have clearly not forgotten how close they came to a truly stomach-churning payout when Warwickshire came up one trophy short of a grand slam in 1994. Whether they deserve to be such short favourites for every competition going, however, must be in doubt. Shaun Pollock is an admirable player, but hardly a true replacement for Lara, not least in this tournament which has adopted the World Cup's all-in-bar-two format for the first 15 overs.

Strong batting will be more crucial than ever, and with Roger Twose also missing they are hardly begging to be backed at 6-1. The encouraging point for punters is that the bookies, unanimous about their favourite, differ when it comes to the remainder (those with access to a Tote shop should note that the firm is top-priced about seven of the first eight in the list).

Lancashire must always be respected in limited-overs, but cannot be value at 7-1 when even a single slip-up in the group stage could put them out. Middlesex are simply not a one-day side, while Surrey are well-established disappointments, and a more sensible approach is to look for a team on the up.

Essex have struggled recently but now have Stuart Law, and their group- stage itinerary is as straightforward as any. Back them at 14-1 with Coral (only 7-1 with Hills), and take a chance too on Michael Bevan's Yorkshire at Hills' 25-1.

BENSON AND HEDGES CUP (starts Friday): Best prices: 6-1 Warwicks (T), 7-1 Lancs (C,T), 10-1 Surrey (T), Kent (L,T), Worcs (C), 11-1 Middx (T), 12-1 Northants (L,T), 14-1 Essex (C), 25-1 Gloucs (L), Hants (T), Notts (C), Sussex (T), Yorks (H), 28-1 Derbys (C,H), 33-1 Somerset (L), Glamorgan (C), 40-1 Leics (L), 100-1 Durham (T), 2,000-1 bar.

C Coral, H Hills, L Ladbrokes, T Tote.