The Cricket World Cup is drawing to a close after what seems like months of one-sided games.
The final three games are expected to be far more exciting than the quarter-finals which pitched over-matched sides against the big guns.
The first semi-final, which takes place in the early hours of Tuesday morning, ensures that there will be at least one new finalist in Sunday’s showpiece.
South Africa and New Zealand have played in nine World Cup semi-finals between them and lost the lot.
The sentiment will be for New Zealand, who are marginally odds against. The neutrals will hope that they get through as it could well set up a final against rivals and hosts Australia.
South Africa have had their troubles at the top of the order and do not be surprised if the new-ball partnership of Trent Boult and Tim Southee make an early breakthrough.
However, South Africa have a better pedigree and have won 36 of the 61 previous One-Day International meetings. They have plenty of match-winners and at least one of them should step up when it matters.
We have to take a trip across the pond for our next sport selection. The Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets are in the midst of a classic battle for the final NBA playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics (30-39) are half a game behind eighth-placed Charlotte after losing to Detroit 105-97 on Sunday, while Brooklyn (29-39) is a game out of eighth place.
Boston has lost three straight and the Nets won their last five and it is worth taking a chance that both runs to come to an end this evening.
The Nets won 123-111 at Indiana on Saturday but the Celtics have won two of three meetings this season, including an 89-91 win at Brooklyn on January 7.
Boston will miss guard Isiaih Thomas (back), who has sat out the last seven games and this is significant. Hwever, the Nets are odds-on to win, despite having lost seven of the last 10 meetings with the Celtics, and are no certainties. We’ll take the four-point dogs, more in hope than confidence
As the Jumps season draws to a close, it is understandable that the fare is very much bread-and-butter.
However, there are a couple of good betting heats each day and we start the week with Shy John (Taunton 4:50), who appears to have a fair chance in the C&S Electrical Wholesale Handicap Chase.
Unseated a week ago at the same track, the multiple point/hunter chase winner had hardly put a foot wrong at Ludlow previously, when chasing home a subsequent winner.
The danger is Barton Heather, who found one too good at Exeter last time, having made a winning start over fences at Uttoxeter previously. However, there is no guarantee she will handle the quicker ground.
We will let you into a little secret: Venetia Williams has a habit of flirting with our racing correspondent and putting him down at the same time.
Our man complimented her fur hat at Sandown recently. Asking where she got it, Venetia replied: “I can’t remember. I think it was road-kill… and the rest was a nice casserole!”
And after winning a race, leading the questions afterwards, our man asked about the improvement in the eight-year-old she had saddled to victory.
With a twinkle in her eye, she quipped: “The thing with racehorses there is no limit to how much they can improve… until they get as old as you and me!”
And that’s probably the reason he keeps a closer-than-average eye on her runners these days.
Ms. Williams runs Eminent Poet (3:45, Newbury) in a competitive renewal of the Doom Bar Novices’ Hurdle and should run well at a big price.
The four-year-old was held by Bishop Wulstan here last month in soft ground over two miles, but the extended 3m 2f trip and faster ground should suit Eminent Poet. He is taken to reverse the tables and make the frame.
The destiny of the Six Nations Championship will go down to the last game of the tournament.
Wales will need a landslide win in Rome to have any chance of pipping Ireland and England to the title, and England top the table on points difference from Ireland, who have an easier task against Scotland.
France, who have yet to really turn up in this tournament, have lost six of the last nine meetings with England including their last three visits to Twickenham.
The French always seem to raise their game against England, but the hosts have won 30 and drawn five of the past 46 meetings at home.
England’s finishing against Scotland last weekend was poor, but they are creating plenty of chances and can beat the handicap. We look for a more optimistic bet of England to lead at half-time.
‘Britain’s most prolific male player of the Open era’ is a bit of a mouthful.
Yet that’s the title bestowed upon Andy Murray, who moved into the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells after beating Feliciano Lopez. It gave Murray win 497 career wins, moving him past Tim Henman.
But it is just Murray’s luck that he meets a rested Novak Djokovic. The world No.1 had a walkover against Bernard Tomic, who suffered a back injury.
Djokovic has won the last five meetings with Murray and has beaten the Scot in straight sets in each of their last three best-of-three-set clashes.
Murray was also defeated by Djokovic in four sets in this season’s Australian Open Final.
We think Murray might give the Serb a few early problems and this may well go the distance.
Wigan have lost a few experienced players over the past 12 months, but the blend of youth and experience is a good one, with some exciting youngsters coming through.
Wigan are without Sean O’Loughlin for tonight’s trip to Leeds and that could be the tipping point to see a home win for the Rhinos.
Warrington thumped Leeds 18-6 last week, which was a nasty shock. Yet the Rhinos have proven time and again that they bounce back from losses, especially when they return home.
Their outside backs are perhaps the best unit in the Super League and given that Wigan were handsomely outpointed by Castleford last time out, we think the hosts will take all the beating, especially with the return of Zak Hardaker.
Medieval Chapel (Newbury 3:45) has taken a while to get the hang of jumping fences but he should run well at a fair price in the Oakley Coachbuilders Novices’ Limited Handicap this afternoon.
A 23-length winner at Fakenham last time, Nicky Henderson’s charge faces stiffer opposition this time in the three-mile event, but the win will not have hurt his confidence.
He is a progressive sort and while he has the likes of the The Skyfarmer and Horatio Hornblower to beat, with eight runners scheduled to line up, his current odds of around 11-2 makes him a solid each-way bet.
The race for fourth place is getting really interesting and while Manchester United saw off the upstarts Tottenham last weekend, how will they fare against Liverpool in the big match of the weekend?
With the bottom three – Leicester, QPR and Burnley – all having tough games against in-form sides, will Sunderland gain impetus and avoid the drop with Dick Advocaat in charge? They face West Ham, who hope their luck turns after weeks of frustration.
We look at the big matches and where you may wish to put your money.
Aston Villa (2.44) are rejuvenated under Tim Sherwood, borne out by their incredible 4-0 win at Sunderland last weekend, a result that saw manager Gus Poyet parting company with the Black Cats.
Villa are now starting to ease their relegation worries (three points above Burnley and, remarkably given their scoring issues, with a superior goal difference), while Swansea (3.05) are in a mid-table comfort zone.
Villa probably need three more wins to confirm their Premier League status for next season, while the Swans are unlikely to qualify for Europe or get embroiled in the relegation malaise.
The home side have a greater incentive to pick up three points but the recovery under Sherwood may stall this weekend, should things not go their way early on and the crowd become agitated.
Swansea have won four of 14 matches in the league on the road this season but at least should play with freedom and their expansive football under Garry Monk is pleasing on the eye.
Villa have won just three at home and have scored just 19 goals in 29 Premier League games. They are not built to chase a game and if they fall behind, may well get caught on the counter-attack.
Stoke are unlikely to claim a European place after losing at West Brom last weekend. Their current eighth place is the best they can realistically hope for, which is another qualified success for manager Mark Hughes.
Palace need two more wins to be safe but there are at least five sides below them who have more to do. So this clash, which has seen both sides find the net in six of the last eight meetings, smacks of a contender for last place on the Match of the Day running order.
Three of the last five meetings were drawn (the draw is available at 3.15) and Palace, who have lost just once in the last six on the road, also have a fair record at the Britannia Stadium. They have come away empty-handed twice in their last 10 visits.
Tottenham (Odds 1.57) have lost back-to-back Premier League games just once this season (in October). While were firmly put in their place by Manchester United last weekend, Spurs are still only six points off of fourth place and four off of the Europa League spot.
A bounce-back seems likely at White Hart Lane, where they are unbeaten in their last nine league games.
Leicester (6.00), who have won two of the last three meetings with Tottenham, are fighting for survival, having won just two of their last 23 matches.
Rooted to the foot of the table, seven points adrift of safety, they need to get something at a ground where they have done well recently. The Foxes have lost just twice in their last eight trips to the Lane.
Despite being eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday, Arsenal (1.62) are a team in form and came agonisingly close to overturning a two-goal deficit in the second leg at Monaco.
How they react to that reverse will be key to them pushing on and maintaining an outside chance of winning the league, but Chelsea and are unlikely to drop enough points to allow the Gunners to get into the mix, although the prospect of finishing second is growing. Arsene Wenger’s side are only a point behind second-placed Manchester City.
Newcastle (5.60) are becalmed in the relative comfort zone of mid-table with European qualification beyond them and relegation now unlikely. The Magpies have managed to beat the Gunners just twice in the last 27 meetings.
Ten of the last 14 meetings yielded three goals or more and that’s a top trend. Arsenal have won seven of 15 away league matches this season and the Geordies are not infallible at home, so an away win is the most likely outcome.
Burnley (8.00) are in the midst of a brutal run of fixtures, playing the top seven in the table in a span of eight games.
Having dispatched champions Manchester City to move within one point of safety, they seek to do the double over an over-achieving Southampton (1.46) side that have won just one of their last five league games.
The Saints have fallen four points behind fifth-placed Liverpool and for all their incredible early-season exploits, will be in serious danger of missing out on European football if they fail to win this.
However, playing just three teams in the top half of the table in their remaining nine games, the Saints may still be a value bet to clamber into the top four at season’s end.
Burnley have won just one of their last 12 trips to Southampton but six of the last 14 meetings (and nine of 24) ended in a draw. It is 4.30 for a draw to occur again.
A stalemate is perhaps the best the Clarets can hope for, but we expect Ronald Koeman’s side to edge it.
With Sunderland (4.70) cutting ties with Gus Poyet after a terrible 4-0 home loss to Aston Villa, West Ham (1.81) manager Sam Allardyce even failed to win the race for the first manager to be sacked.
Winning is habit Big Sam’s side appear to have forgotten. One league win in the last 12 is bordering on relegation form and while the quality of football has improved this season, the Hammers are in danger of finishing in the bottom half of the table.
Fortunately, the hard work has been done and their cupcake run-in should see them pick up at least 13 points, starting with three against Sunderland.
The Black Cats have won two of their last 19 league games and have managed just one goal in their last five. Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, one of the most prolific marksmen of his generation and a firm favourite with both sets of fans, would probably still do a better striking job – and he’s now aged 69!
Sunderland have won three of the last 12 meetings. Three of the last five were drawn and Diego Poyet, who plays for West Ham, would like nothing better than to put one over on the side that sacked his Dad. A little schadenfreude is what we are hoping for, too.
West Ham have plenty of pent-up frustration and despite their indifferent results, have been threatening to give someone a tonking. If goal-shy Aston Villa can beat this lot 4-0…
This north-west derby is arguably the game of the week and has major Champions League connotations for both.
Fourth-placed United (3.55) have a two-point advantage over fifth-placed Liverpool (2.10), and a five-point cushion would go a long way to realising their dreams of returning to the premier European competition next season.
Liverpool have lost just two of 15 home league matches this season but five games have been drawn at Anfield.
United have won five of the last seven meetings and seven of the last 10 meetings saw three or more goals scored.
Draws are rare – just one occurring in the last 22 meetings – and we are happy to oppose inconsistent United. With Liverpool’s tails up after a 13-game unbeaten run in the league, we look for the hosts to edge a tense affair.
Hull (Odds: 8.40) are not totally certain of playing in the Premier League next season and this match with Chelsea (1.46) is unlikely to improve their position.
Only three teams have won fewer league matches than Hull in 2014-15 and two of those are in the bottom three.
Four wins from 14 home fixtures is relegation form and Hull have conceded more goals than they have scored at their own stadium this season. They have never beaten Chelsea in eight attempts, losing each of the last three meetings 2-0.
Chelsea are heading for their first title in the second Jose Mourinho era and their hosts are unlikely to spoil that outcome.
No side has won more matches on the road this season and Chelsea can add one more away victory to their total, but sticking with the trend that has seen five of the last six meetings yield less than three goals might not be the best option. Chelsea should totally outclass Hull.
Everton’s 3-0 defeat of Newcastle last weekend was their second victory in their last 13 league games and one that leaves them six points clear of the relegation pack.
Their run-in is hardly a murders’ row, so Roberto Martinez’s side can contemplate European glory, should they manage to progress against Dynamo Kiev.
The Europa League has been a happy distraction from a disappointing domestic campaign, which has seen the Toffeemen record back-to-back victories just once (in October).
Everton (Odds: 2.18) won the last three meetings with QPR (all at home) and are unbeaten in the last five against Rangers (3.40), who have won two of the last 10 clashes.
Rangers have lost the last four league games and eight of their last nine. Encamped in the bottom three, they are four points from safety and have lost more games than any other team in the top flight (19).
There are invariably a few goals when these two meet. Nine of last 14 meetings yielded three goals or more and Rangers have managed at least one goal in their last five games.
With Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Manchester United still to play, Rangers simply must start picking up points against those around them.
Everton have lost their last three road games and, coming off a tough road trip on Thursday, Rangers may well pick up all three points.
The European Super League is in its early stages and upsets are possible.
Yet this is unlikely to be the case when St Helens host the Warrington. Wolves have lost just once in Super League so far this season, while top-of-the-table Saints are unbeaten, so it should be an epic scrap.
St Helens have hooker James Roby and prop Kyle Amor back from injury and suspension respectively, but they are still without Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival (out for six weeks with a knee injury), Luke Walsh and Mark Flanagan.
Warrington have no real injury concerns and head coach Tony Smith has named an unchanged 19-man squad from the one that beat Leeds last week.
Warrington won their last two at Langtree Park but although the Saints have a few key men missing, their depth is such that they should be able to overcome their losses. We take them to win.
Of all the five clashes in the Darts Premier League in Glasgow, this one is arguably the one everyone wants to see.
Phil Taylor is like kryptonite to Raymond van Barneveld. The Power leads the all-time series meetings 51-12-4, an extraordinary run of success against one of the top players in the world.
Reigning Premier League champion van Barneveld has made a poor start to the defence of his title and sits level with Kim Huybrechts in the bottom two in the table, having lost 7-3 to 2009 champion James Wade last week.
Taylor is also coming into this off a loss, having gone down 7-3 to Michael van Gerwen in Nottingham last week.
Van Barneveld was way off his game last week and while Taylor was not 100 per cent with his doubles, he holds an Indian sign over Barney and should get back to winning ways.
Andy Murray eased through to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian wells with a 6-1 3-6 6-1 victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber and now faces Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who is ranked No.38 in the world.
Mannarino is at the top of his game. The talented left-hander, who is facing Murray for the first time, saw off Ernst Gulbis 6-4 6-4 in the third round.
Though not at his best on Monday in hot conditions, he was always in control and, with a better service game, he should have breezed through in straight sets.
We see Murray progressing in straight sets, but the odds of 1.28 do not appeal. We think the Frenchman will make Murray work for the first set but it is still worth taking a chance on there being less than 9.5 games in the opening set.
Some see this Champions League quarter-final second leg as one of Manuel Pellegrini’s final games before Manchester City’s wealthy owners look elsewhere.
Defeat at Burnley on Saturday left City six points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, who also have a game in hand. It seems safe to say that the Sky Blues are ready to hoist the white flag.
The Champions League is all or nothing and, having been completely outplayed in the first half of the first leg, it appears as they will end the season empty-handed.
Barcelona have won the last three meetings, scoring twice on each occasion and City have to over-turn a 2-1 deficit at the Camp Nou.
Whether Pellegrini has the tactical nous to change tactics at the right time is arguable. Whether his players have the mental fortitude to take the game to Barcelona is perhaps a more pertinent question.
We look for Barcelona to progress with another victory and can live with a short price.
Mares’ races at this time of year are often a very tricky puzzle to solve, but we are dipping our toe in at Warwick this afternoon.
Street Of Promise (4.10) has to give weight away all round to four rivals in the 2m 5f handicap hurdle, but the Michael Scudamore-trained six-year-old won very easily on heavy ground at Wincanton three weeks ago and should have the measure of her major rival Millicent Silver, whose jumping was sketchy on her last run at Ffos Las a month ago.
A cracking 3-1 win at West Ham has seen Palace (Odds: 1.78) jump to relative safety, eight points off the relegation zone.
QPR (4.80) failed to win their game in hand on their rivals, slipping to defeat at home to Tottenham last weekend and remain in the bottom three. They are three points behind fourth-from-bottom Aston Villa.
Rangers created several chances against Spurs and were unfortunate to lose.
They are unbeaten in their last seven meetings with Palace, although there have been five draws in the last nine clashes and the draw is on offer at 3.60.
Six of the last nine meetings saw no more than two goals scored (3 goals or more is on offer at 2.00) and while Charlie Austin is a fair bet to get on the scoresheet, a low-scoring draw looks a logical bet.
Arsenal (Odds 1.40) have reached Wembley and will have been pleased with their FA Cup semi-final draw.
Yet the ultimate aim remains qualification for the Champions League and they would appear to have a fight on their hands.
They are just three points in front of fifth-placed Liverpool and four ahead of Tottenham.
West Ham (8.40) are struggling to remain in the top 10, having come down with the Christmas decorations, as tradition dictates. They have won one of their last 11 Premier League games and have lost their last nine meetings with Arsenal.
In fact, the Gunners have remained unbeaten in their last 14 meetings (winning 12) against the Hammers.
There are invariably a few goals when these two meet. The last six meetings have yielded more than two goals. That is a trend that we feel will continue and it is 1.61 for 3 goals or more to be scored.
Sunderland (Odds: 2.30) have managed one win in their last 11 Premier league games and have had very little luck. The lack of firepower has been a constant problem. They have failed to net in three of their last four games.
Four points above the drop zone, they are just a point and a pace above Aston Villa, who are fourth-bottom.
Villa (3.35) are on the up, having reached the FA Cup semi-final and gained a morale-boosting win over West Brom in the league.
The Black Cats have a poor record against Villa, having won just two of the last 14 meetings, although the draw has cashed-in on 12 of the last 25 meeting. Arguably a draw would suit both sides and it is 3.15 that a draw occurs.
One or other failed to net in seven of the last nine meetings. Vila have managed just 15 goals in 28 league games and they may well take a backward step here.
These two clubs are at different ends of the wealth spectrum and the richest club should prevail.
All is not well at City (Odds: 1.44) and an ageing squad are in danger of winning no trophies this season.
They are five points behind Chelsea at the top of the table and the Londoners have a game in hand. Established players like Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure appear to be past their best with no talented young blood coming through.
City are all but out of the Champions League after losing 2-1 to Barcelona at home in the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Despite the obvious shortcomings, the visitors should have too much for a Burnley (7.40) side for whom survival at this level is the main objective.
Eight of the last 17 meetings were drawn, the last seven meetings yielded over 2.5 goals, and City are unbeaten in the last 10 fixtures between these sides.
The march to a first Premier League title in the second Jose Mourinho era can continue with a regulation home win for Chelsea (Odds: 1.60), against a Southampton (6.20) side that are dropping out of contention for a top four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League.
In the first ‘Special One’ spell, winning the League Cup was a springboard to a title-winning season and history looks like repeating itself.
Chelsea are the only side not to lose at home in the Premier League this season, scoring 25 goals and conceding just five at Stamford Bridge.
They have won seven of the last 10 meetings, eight of the last nine meetings saw more than two goals scored and the Saints have won one of last 13 trips to the West London stadium.