Stars set to light up second edition of BBL

GREG BUCKLE
Last updated 13:01 04/12/2012
Warne, Muralitharan
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BATTLE BEGINS: Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan are set to resume their international battles in the BBL.

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It's hard to go past the star power set to light up the second edition of the Big Bash League, led by Shane Warne and his long-time rival Muttiah Muralitharan.

And with a new TV deal to be negotiated after this summer, Cricket Australia is hoping fans vote with their feet and their remote controls between December 7 and January 19.

Murali's Melbourne Renegades host the Warne-led Melbourne Stars in Friday's bumper tournament opener at Etihad Stadium.

A big crowd - maybe even a competition record of 43,000 - is expected to see the two 40-somethings who boast over 1500 test wickets between them go around again.

Murali regards Warne as simply a great bowler.

"We don't have a competition between us, but the thing is we will compete with the batsmen," said the Sri Lankan great.

"We're in the side to take wickets.

"Age doesn't matter as long as you are performing."

The Stars are expected to improve on their semi-final showing last season and qualify for the final, which leads to a spot in the lucrative Champions League (CL).

Defending BBL champions and CL winners the Sydney Sixers are regarded as the Stars' biggest threat.

Former internationals Brad Haddin and Brett Lee help make the Sixers formidable opponents, but the Stars have the firepower to match them.

Pace bowlers Jackson Bird and Sri Lanka import Lasith Malinga and a batting lineup that includes David Hussey and Brad Hodge put the Stars at the top of the pile.

Adelaide Strikers, Brisbane Heat and Hobart Hurricanes, whose top-order batting includes ex-test skipper Ricky Ponting, present strong challenges on paper for top-four spots.

Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades were the bottom two teams last summer and need to show dramatic improvement to be competitive with the big boys.

Perth Scorchers - finalists last summer - will go into this tournament under the radar following an unsuccessful and boozy CL in South Africa in October.

The Thunder need Usman Khawaja and Mark Cosgrove to provide strong batting support for West Indies master blaster Chris Gayle.

The Renegades have lost key batsmen Hodge and Glenn Maxwell to the Stars, with Tasmania's Alex Doolan expected to step up in their absence.

The Hurricanes, with Ponting, George Bailey and Tim Paine, boast a solid batting lineup.

Opener Phil Hughes looms as the main man for the Strikers, while the Heat are desperately hoping paceman Ryan Harris can overcome a shoulder injury to team up with fellow quick Mitchell Johnson.

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"If you have injuries or Australian selections you just have to cope with it," Heat coach Darren Lehmann said.

"That's probably why we've gone with a better bowling attack than most other teams.

"But we know we have to bat well to get a long way in the tournament.

"If you start well that gets you momentum in a tournament where there's only eight games."

Australia's long love affair with West Indies players is set to continue.

Gayle will take on Sydney Sixers' spinner Sunil Narine in their cross-town derbies, while Kieron Pollard (Strikers), Kemar Roach (Heat) and World T20 final man-of-the-match Marlon Samuels (Renegades) are also expected to play key roles for their respective sides.

South African pace spearhead Dale Steyn will play one game for Brisbane Heat at the Gabba on Sunday against Ponting's Hurricanes.

TEAM BY TEAM GUIDE TO THE 2012-13 BBL SEASON

ADELAIDE STRIKERS

Last season: 6th
Prediction: 3rd

Boast plenty of stars including human-highlights packages such as fiery quick Shaun Tait and big-hitting West Indian Kieron Pollard.

Players to watch:

Johan Botha: An offspinner who served a ban for chucking following his Test debut for South Africa in 2006, the doosra specialist has claimed 37 wickets in 40 T20 Internationals.

Phil Hughes: The former Test opener is desperate to return to the international scene and has a habit of scoring quickly.

BRISBANE HEAT

Last season: 5th
Prediction: 5th

Should be semi-final contenders and possess a strong lineup on paper with plenty of good pace bowlers.

Players to watch:

Kemar Roach: Fast and dangerous, having shaken up Ricky Ponting a few years back in Perth.

Dan Christian: Talented allrounder who will be called upon to lead Brisbane's middle-order batting.

HOBART HURRICANES

Last season: 2nd (lost in semi-finals)
Prediction: 4th

Strong batting lineup and also have excellent spin attack led by Xavier Doherty and Jason Krejza.

Players to watch:

Doug Bollinger: Former international quick with a point to prove and plenty of fire left in the belly.

Ricky Ponting: Test and one-day great whose return to the domestic scene for the Hurricanes this summer will boost the team's totals and ticket sales.

MELBOURNE RENEGADES

Last season: 7th
Prediction: 6th

Have lost T20 great Brad Hodge to the Stars, leaving a big load on Aaron Finch. Spin will be a major weapon for the Renegades who'll need plenty of luck to make the semis.

Players to watch:

Muttiah Muralitharan: The Test world-record holder might look a bit slow in the field but the 40-year-old spinning sensation from Sri Lanka remains a wicket-taking threat and a big crowd-puller.

Marlon Samuels: The West Indies' strokeplayer's man-of-the-match performance in the 2012 World T20 final suggests the 31-year-old is in career-best form, plus his 260 in a recent Test against Bangladesh.

MELBOURNE STARS

Last season: 4th (semi-finalists)
Prediction: 1st

With Viv Richards and Ian Chappell among their support staff and Brad Hodge jumping ship from the Renegades to the Stars, the MCG-based team boast a star-studded lineup on and off the field.

Players to watch:

Shane Warne: The 43-year-old leg-spin great, still the biggest entertainer in world cricket and looking slimmer than his Test-playing days, will be full of one-liners and mystery balls.

Lasith Malinga: Sri Lanka's mop-topped slinger will be aiming those famous reverse-swinging yorkers at the toes of late-order sloggers and can be expected to pick up a bag of wickets at some stage in the tournament.

PERTH SCORCHERS

Last season: 1st (lost final)
Prediction: 7th

Could face a big slide after being finalists last summer. New coach Justin Langer should add a hard edge following the Scorchers' boozy Champions League campaign in South Africa in October.

Players to watch:

Simon Katich: His tough-minded approach will give the Scorchers a fighting chance of posting competitive scores.

Brad Hogg: A left-arm wrist-spinner in his 40s who continues to bewilder batsmen, Hogg will be aiming to repeat his 13-wicket haul from nine matches last season.

SYDNEY SIXERS

Last season: 3rd (won final)

Prediction: 2nd

Winners of the recent Champions League, the Sixers are the real deal. The biggest thing standing in the way of them making the final could be losing a slab of players to the national side.

Players to watch:

Brad Haddin: Former Test wicketkeeper who's in good form with the bat and has a strong competitive spirit.

Steven Smith: The best fielder in the competition as well as being a gun limited-overs batsman and a handy leg-spinner.

SYDNEY THUNDER

Last season: 8th
Prediction: 8th

Unlikely to see post-season action this summer although any side boasting Chris Gayle can't be dismissed completely.

Players to watch:

Chris Gayle: Powerful top-order hitter who has scored 50 or better 39 times in T20 domestic and international games, placing him No.1 on that list.

Dirk Nannes: The former Renegades' left-armer still has plenty of zip despite reaching the age of 36 and will be lively with the new ball.

- AAP

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