Wasim favourite to fleece the bookies

SPORTS BETTING

For people who are all but guaranteed to finish on the winning side, bookmakers can be nervous creatures. Many firms suspended betting on the Cricket World Cup last week when it became clear that Australia and the West Indies were likely to forfeit their games in Sri Lanka, but prices are now available again and, strangely, strikingly similar to those available a fortnight ago.

The odds are surprisingly generous too. A minor drawback is that the two-group formula makes for any number of draw permutations at the knock- out stage, not least since Sri Lanka seem likely to have a four-point start in Group A.

Home advantage may also count for little, with both India and Pakistan likely to face at least one knock-out match on hostile territory. With an impressive balance in batting and bowling, however, and team spirit which can often be lacking in their joint-hosts, India appear the best outright bet at 9-2.

Coral, at least, seem to be very worried about the growing impact of spread-betting firms. They have compiled a huge range of novelty bets. The most interesting of all is the "Captain Fantastic" list, based around the captains of the eight major teams, which gives one point for each run scored, 10 points for a catch, 10 for a wicket and 20 points for a man of the match award.

Matches against the weakest sides will be vital here - the toss may decide whether a batsman get the chance to make 100 or just a share of a miserable total to win. Bowlers, though, will always get their chance, so the odds of 5-1 against Wasim Akram - also a fine middle-order batsman - seem amazingly generous. Make Coral pay for their mistake.

CRICKET WORLD CUP: Best prices (C Coral, H Hills, L Ladbrokes): 7-2 Australia (H), 4-1 Pakistan (C,H,L), 9-2 India (C), 5-1 South Africa (C), 6-1 West Indies (H), 9-1 England (H), 14-1 Sri Lanka (C), 33-1 New Zealand (C), 200-1 others. Captain Fantastic (Coral): 7-2 Cronje (SA), 9-2 Taylor (Aus), 5-1 Atherton (Eng), Akram (Pak), 11-2 Azharuddin (Ind), 6-1 Richardson (W Ind), 10-1 Germon (NZ), 12-1 Ranatunga (S Lanka).

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