England can pass Lord's Test at 9-4

SPORTS BETTING

"We're all cynics here," one of William Hill's odds compilers said yesterday morning, and a glance at their prices for the second Ashes Test, which begins at Lord's on Thursday, demonstrates why.

Despite England's crushing success in the opening match of the series, a doubling of their advantage in the series is the outsider of the three possible outcomes at 9-4, with a morale-boosting victory for Australia just 7-4. The clear favourite, however, is the draw, at 6-5.

Clearly, Hills expect the Australian batsmen to maintain the form of their second innings at Edgbaston, rather than revert to their abject display in the first.

But, even then, it seems incredible that the tourists are rated more likely winners than the hosts, not least when England remain even-money favourites with the same firm to win back the Ashes.

Ladbrokes, by contrast, while also making the draw their 6-5 favourite, offer 7-4 against England and 5-2 against Australia, which seems a much more reasonable view.

Once that astonishing first session in Birmingham was out of the way, the two teams were fairly well-matched, but it should pay to remember that England not only started the match by landing a solid psychological uppercut, but also rounded things off the same way, when making very short and professional work of reaching their victory target.

It has been a long time since an England team displayed a killer instinct but, now it has been rediscovered, there must be every chance that Michael Atherton's men will snatch what would probably prove to be an unassailable lead in the series.

That they are 9-4 (the price is also available with Coral) to do so should make the experience all the more satisfying. And, with the best-price betting on the series showing an over-round (profit margin for the bookmakers) of less than one per cent, the evens about England winning the Ashes may also find plenty of takers.

SECOND TEST (Lord's, starts Thursday): Best prices: 5-4 the draw (C), 9-4 England (H, C), 5-2 Australia (L). Ashes series: Evens England (H, C), 5-2 Australia (L), 7-2 drawn series (L).

Top England batsman (Coral): 3-1 Stewart, 100-30 Thorpe, 7-2 Atherton, 4-1 Hussain, 7-1 Crawley, Butcher, 12-1 A Hollioake, 20-1 Ealham, 40-1 Croft, 80-1 Gough, 100-1 Caddick, 200-1 Tufnell, 250-1 Malcolm.

SOUTH AFRICA v BRITISH LIONS SERIES: (Three-Test series starts Saturday): Coral: 2-7 South Africa, 5-2 British Lions, 33-1 drawn series.

C - Coral, H - William Hill, L - Ladbrokes.

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