Bookmaker William Hill said it made ‘a six-figure sum’ yesterday as the England cricket team beat Australia to win the Ashes - because most of its UK punters had their money on England to lose. OK, so for a generation brought up on a series of Ashes drubbings, this kind of pessimism is perfectly understandable – but it’s not much of a vote of confidence in our national team’s ability to deliver the goods when it counts, is it? Not that William Hill is likely to be complaining…
England won the fifth Ashes test yesterday to take the series 2-1 – although when Australia were cruising along at 217-2 in the afternoon (albeit chasing a massive 546 to win), it’s fair to say there were plenty of people getting nervous, both on and off the field. In fact, according to William Hill, most punters have been backing Australia throughout the series. So the bookmaker was presumably as ecstatic as the rest of us (albeit for different reasons) when Australian captain Ricky Ponting was run out by Andrew Flintoff and the Aussies eventually slumped to 348 all out.
It’s nice to see a UK firm profiting from a big UK sporting victory – and we can well believe that the feelgood factor engendered by yesterday’s result will have been good for the economy in the short term (if only in terms of the beers, burgers and barbecues sold both at the Oval and up and down the country yesterday). But it’s a sign of how rarely this happens that UK punters just couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe in it. ‘The patriotic punt never really occurred,’ William Hill told the BBC. ‘Although I am sure they will never admit it, the majority of our customers were backing Ponting and his men all through the series.’
Of course, there is another alternative. After years of watching us get battered by the Aussies, perhaps English cricket fans have started backing the opposition as a superstition – at least that way you get a financial upside when England crumble to a miserable defeat (as they did on their last tour to Australia in 2006/7, for instance).
Either way, let’s enjoy the experience while we can – after the endless stream of bad news we’ve had lately, the rare pleasure of spending a glorious Sunday afternoon watching England beat the old enemy at cricket should be savoured to the full...
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