Stan Hey: 6-5 against

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The Independent Online

Just when you're looking to balance the books along comes an England Test series. "Must be loyal," you think, and then the phrase "batting collapse" echoes around your head as you lift the bookie's pen. England to win. "Are you sure?" says the little voice inside.

The British bookies have no doubts – they all go odds-on for an England series win and there are odds of 4-5 (with VC Bet) as a temptation. But New Zealand aren't that bad – they lost the Twenty20s but won the one-day series. And some of their new players have impressed – batsman Jamie How, bowler Iain O'Brien – while there's a hard core of experience in Stephen Fleming, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, and Daniel Vettori.

The final warm-up game, with several out-of-form England players returning to the fray, didn't say much for their sharpness. A first-innings total of 131 was a pub team score. Allowing a 140-run lead looked sloppy. So, is captain Michael Vaughan (0 and 13) worth his place as a batsman? Can the unguided missile Steve Harmison knock over front-line batsmen as well as tailenders?

Who will replace Chris Tremlett? Too many questions. New Zealand to win the first Test (11-4 Coral) and the series (3-1, Bet 365) – a tenner on each.

Last week's wagers

Moral victories cut no ice with bookies – you win or lose. Spurs beat Chelsea but I took the odds for 90 minutes (£10 lost). Meanwhile Berbatov scored the second goal not the first (£5 lost). The Oscar bets were duds (£4 lost), while Steve Stricker struck out in the Match Play (£10 lost). But here's a cert – Tiger Woods won't go off as big as 11-4 again this year.

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