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Last updated: Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 11:58 GMT

Bookies on the back foot
West Indies skipper Brian Lara
Can Lara lead the Windies to a shock win?
Bookmakers are treading a cautious line ahead of cricket's biggest event.

The World Cup in South Africa is likely to be the sport's most lucrative tournament to date in gambling terms.

But political turmoil and match-fixing scandals mean it is no certainty the event will herald a complete betting bonanza.

England's uncertainty over playing in Zimbabwe has left some punters holding onto their cash.

And several bookmakers are naturally wary after after being caught short at previous events.

The 1999 World Cup was disastrous for spread bookmaker Sporting Index.

11/8 Australia
11/4 South Africa
13/2 India
9/1 Pakistan
12/1 Sri Lanka
14/1 New Zealand
14/1 England
16/1 West Indies
50/1 Zimbabwe
250/1 Kenya
500/1 Bangladesh
1000/1 Canada, Namibia & Netherlands
(William Hill, 19/01/03)
"There were over 40 matches during the last World Cup, and we ran a market on how many wides there would be in the competition," said PR director Wally Pyrah.

"We predicted a figure of 247 - at an average of around five wides a match - and it has to be remembered that this was really a novelty bet.

"The figure proved to be wrong, and massively so.

"The person who made the figure of 247 had based his judgment on individual days of Test matches rather than one-day internationals, where wides are far more common.

"Where we had reckoned there would be four or five wides a game, it was proving to be nearer 25 - and by the end of the tournament there had been 980 in total. We lost just under 400,000.

"All our boys were expecting Ferraris, but they quickly forgot about their bonuses."

We have a list of top 10 worst scenarios in our history and the 1999 World Cup went straight to the top
Sporting Index's Wally Pyrah

The 1999 World Cup stands ahead of Brian Lara's world record knock of 375 and Manchester United's famous treble in the list of betting misjudgements.

Sporting Index predicted Lara would hit just over 80 runs against England in 1994.

By the end of his marathon innings, the West Indian was costing the company 1,200 every time he hit a boundary.

However, Pyrah insists wides will again be on the menu for punters.

"We love the Cricket World Cup because it's a wonderful betting opportunity," he said.

William Hill expects its turnover to top 1m.

But the firm admits ante-post wagers have been limited by uncertainty.

"There are a unique set of circumstances, and punters will want those resolved," said spokesman Graham Sharpe.

England have a chance - although I wouldn't bet on that myself
Bet 365's Will Roseff

Australia are clear tournament favourites, although internet bookies Bet365 believe the World Cup is far more open than the odds would suggest.

"I do believe there are several teams that could win it and I include England in that," said trading director Will Roseff.

"Cricket is still nowhere near football or horse racing in Britain, but the popularity of the sport as a betting market is growing all the time.

"The World Cup will be the biggest event yet, without question.

"Cricket has always been a sport which people like to have a bet on, and I'm sure that will increase for the World Cup."

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