Australia’s Premier T20 Big Bash cricket event begins in Melbourne on Friday (8am GMT; 7pm local time) as the pre-tournament favourites The Stars face the rank outsiders, the Renegades.
The Stars have a strong line up at their disposal and are widely expected to secure a comfortable opening victory against a Melbourne Renegades team who are priced as high as 11/1 with Paddy Power to be lifting the trophy in the New Year.
The Stars, captained by a slimmed-down Shane Warne, are priced as low as 9/2 with SkyBet for an outright tournament victory and that is enough to suggest that the Renegades have an almost impossible task in this opening contest. In T20 however, anything can happen and it only takes one major performance to upset those pre-match odds.
That big performance may just come from Faf Du Plessis who has been in excellent form for South Africa on their recent test tour of Australia. Du Plessis will have to switch back to one day mode and he will be backed by Aaron Finch who is one of the most destructive batters in the shortest form of the game.
The Renegades also include Muttiah Muralitharan in their ranks but the record breaking spinner has struggled to make an impact in T20 cricket in 2012. His performances with Gloucestershire and in the Sri Lankan Premier League have been poor by his high standards and it’s doubtful if Murali will have any influence on this game.
Overall, the Renegades have a competent side but the lack of big-name players is bound to affect their chances as the tournament progresses.
The Melbourne Stars also contains one of the world’s greatest spinners in their line-up and it will be fascinating to see if captain Shane Warne can recapture some of his best form in this first game. Like Murali, Warne’s most recent appearances in the Indian Premier League were a little ineffective. However, back on home soil actress Liz Hurley’s better half could make a difference in tight games.
Elsewhere, the Stars line up fully justifies their team name and includes some of the best exponents of T20 cricket in the World. Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga will keep the runs down in the final overs and he should get useful support from Aussie test bowlers John Hastings and Clint Mckay.
However, the Stars batting really catches the eye and it’s clearly the strongest in the tournament. David Hussey, Brad Hodge, Cameron White and England’s Luke Wright will be relied on at the top of the order while Glenn Maxwell has impressed in his early appearances in the Australian T20 side.
The Renegades can win this Big Bash opening game but it will require a monumental performance from Du Plessis or Finch with the bat and a hope that Murali will rediscover his magic. The bad news is that the Stars have too much strength in depth and it’s hard to see the whole of the batting order fail – at least in this relatively easy opening match.