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Third Big Bash League Preview

By AAP .
18 December 2013 07:17PM EST

WITH the light-up stumps almost in place for the season opener, it signals the start of the third season of the Big Bash League - but the competition's two biggest initial drawcards are nowhere to be seen.

No Warne. No Gayle.

Australia's greatest Test wicket-taker Shane Warne was the face the initial Big Bash league and the focus of all attention in Melbourne, as skipper of the Stars.

In Sydney, much of the buzz centred on the dynamic Chris Gayle - the West Indian masterblaster who won't be returning for the Thunder this year.

With matches to be shown on free-to-air television for the first time, you could argue the timing for losing the one-man promotional teams could not be worse.

But on the field neither performed last year, with Gayle averaging a paltry 19.57 for the winless Thunder and Warne failing to back up his impressive first season with the Stars.

New Thunder general manager Nick Cummins believes the competition is now strong enough to thrive in its own right, without overpaying for a player's profile.

"And I think that once Channel 10 have finished with it this summer it will take another step up," he told AAP.

"Up until this point it's been on pay TV and it's been the domain of cricket passionates. But being on free to air will change that.

"Chris Gayle is one of the best Twenty20 players in the world, so he's probably in a different category to Warney.

"But I think you want the best players in the world playing, and there are fantastic players who will be exposed to the greater populace.

"That will make it more than just about the Test eleven."

And while veteran Stars batsman Brad Hodge says Warne's presence will be sorely missed, he admits the departure will lead to a more settled dressing room.

"I like the circus factor. I like the Warne factor," he told Fox Sports.

"That's just part of the Warne show. You have to embrace it.

"He attracted a lot of good things for the Big Bash and cricket all around the world.

"He probably will be sadly missed but it will definitely bring a level of calmness in the dressing room, for sure."

The Thunder have undergone a major rejuvenation of their franchise, including an overhaul of their roster and front office.

Last year's champions the Brisbane Heat came from nowhere to take out the 2012-13 title, scraping into the semis before Luke Pomersbach erupted in the big games.

They face a serious challenge to defend their title, with the two Sydney teams, Adelaide and two-time runners-up Perth looming as major threats.

But the competition favourites deserve to be Melbourne's Renegades, who dropped just one regular season game last year before bombing out in the semis.

The Renegades will again be a force, boasting a balanced but destructive batting lineup and some of world cricket's biggest names with the ball.

Renegades batsman Ben Rohrer said he expected the cross-town rivalry to remain strong despite Warne's absence.

"I'm sure they'll get a few less headlines," he told AAP.

"Shane is obviously a huge drawcard and someone everyone loves watching play.

"But in saying that, they're called the Stars for a reason - they've got a heap of other great players."

The third edition of the BBL begins on December 20.

HOW THE TEAMS STACK UP AHEAD OF THE THIRD BIG BASH LEAGUE SEASON

ADELAIDE STRIKERS

Last year: Fifth

Key player: Kane Richardson. 10 wickets last year earned him a $700,000 IPL deal with the Pune Warriors.

Notable signing: Alex Hales. Power-hitting Englishman, who smashed a brilliant 89 off 52 balls for the Renegades at the SCG last year.

Missed out on the knockout stages last year due to a poor runrate after a horror loss in the final match. Expect improvement from a well balanced squad that should impress.

Best 12-man squad: Alex Hales, Michael Klinger, Phil Hughes, Travis Head, Callum Ferguson, Nathan Reardon, Tim Ludeman, Johan Botha, Kane Richardson, Gary Putland, Adam Zampa, Shaun Tait.

Predicted finish: Second

 

BRISBANE HEAT

Last year: Champions

Key player: Daniel Vettori. One of the premier spin bowlers on the planet, Vettori is both economical and a wicket-taking threat.

Notable signing: Craig Kieswetter. Another hard-hitting Englishman, this 'keeper-batsman could provide fireworks at the top of the order.

Won last year's tournament from fourth spot, after looking like missing out on the finals for much of the season. Boast some of the biggest names in Australian cricket in Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and Ryan Harris. But with all well entrenched in the Australian team, how much will the Heat see from them?

Best 12-man squad: Luke Pomersbach, Craig Kieswetter, Shane Watson, Joe Burns, Chris Lynn, James Hopes, Dan Christian, Chris Hartley, Ben Cutting, Mitchell Johnson, Daniel Vettori, Ryan Harris.

Predicted finish: Seventh

 

HOBART HURRICANES

Last year: Sixth

Key player: Travis Birt. Destructive in the first BBL season, but was quiet last year. Extremely dangerous when he gets going.

Notable signing: Shoaib Malik. Crafty, veteran all-rounder who can change a game with his powerful batting or sharp offspin bowling.

No Ricky Ponting leaves a gap in their top order, while fast bowler Ben Hilfenhaus (side strain) will struggle to be fit for the start of the season. Adds more pressure to fiery left-armer Doug Bollinger.

Best 12-man squad: Tim Paine, Travis Birt, George Bailey, Aiden Blizzard, Owais Shah, Jonathan Wells, Shoaib Malik, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ben Laughlin, Xavier Doherty, Doug Bollinger.

Predicted finish: Eighth

 

MELBOURNE RENEGADES

Last year: Semi-finalists

Key player: Aaron Finch. One of the most feared batsmen in T20 cricket - a ten-over burst from this bloke can win you a game.

Notable signings: James Pattinson and Peter Siddle have made the switch from cross-town rivals the Stars. Pattinson will have to fight to regain his Test spot - which bodes well for the Renegades.

Dominated the round-robin games last year, finishing with seven wins to be four points clear at the top. Were knocked out by a Luke Pomersbach century in the semi-finals but will be strong again.

Best 12-man squad: Aaron Finch, Daniel Harris, Alex Doolan, Ben Rohrer, Tom Cooper, Peter Nevill, Mohammad Hafeez, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Rimmington, Muttiah Muralidaran, Fawad Ahmed.

Predicted finish: First

 

MELBOURNE STARS

Last year: Semi-finalists

Key player: Glenn Maxwell. Australia's million dollar man in the IPL, Maxwell is ruthless when he gets going. Can lay claim to being the best fielder on the planet and is a handy spinner.

Notable signing: Matthew Wade. Has been with the Stars since the beginning, but will feel like a new signing after being usurped in the Test team by Brad Haddin.

It will be a new-look Stars outfit, without Shane Warne at the helm. Suffer the twin loss of Test quicks James Pattinson and Peter Siddle but neither played a great deal last year and batting, while ageing, appears as strong as ever.

Best 12-man squad: Luke Wright, Rob Quiney, Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Matt Wade, Glenn Maxwell, Cameron White, James Faulkner, John Hastings, Lasith Malinga, Clint McKay, Jackson Bird.

Predicted finish: Sixth

 

PERTH SCORCHERS

Last year: Runners-up

Key player: Shaun Marsh. Has represented Australia in all three forms of the game for good reason. A classical technique and one of the cleanest hitters of the ball makes him a special batsman to watch.

Notable signing: Dwayne Smith. Adding to Perth's already loaded batting lineup, Smith will bring a bit of West Indian flair to the Scorchers' top order.

Runners up for the second year running, Perth will be desperate to win their first BBL title. They deserve to be among the favourites with a loaded squad, strong batting and a top-shelf spin combination.

Best 12-man squad: Shaun Marsh, Dwayne Smith, Adam Voges, Simon Katich, Sam Whiteman, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitch Marsh, Alfonso Thomas, Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Michael Beer, Brad Hogg.

Predicted finish: Fourth

 

SYDNEY SIXERS

Last year: Seventh

Key player: Josh Hazlewood. Missed the bulk of last season through injury, and it hurt the Sixers badly. At full fitness, the 196cm Hazlewood is one of the premier T20 quicks on the planet - he was the player of the tournament when they won the CLT20.

Notable signings: Marcus North and Mark Cosgrove. With three centuries to start the Shield season, North is in terrific form and along with Cosgrove will bring a steady approach.

A crash back to earth last year after winning the inaugural tournament. They've returned with a strong squad - the Sixers will bat deep, and with Starc, Hazlewood and Brett Lee on board their bowling is among the best in the land.

Best 12-man squad: Nic Maddinson, Michael Lumb, Marcus North, Mark Cosgrove, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques, Ravi Bopara, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Brett Lee, Josh Hazlewood.

Predicted finish: Third

 

SYDNEY THUNDER

Last year: Last

Key player: Dirk Nannes. Has been the lone shining light in the Thunder's two wooden spoon seasons. Took 11 wickets last year and will be the leader of their attack once again.

Notable signings: Mike Hussey and Ajantha Mendis. Retired Test champion Hussey has been a T20 star for years at international level. Mendis is one of the hardest spinners to read in the game.

Best 12-man squad: Ryan Carters, David Warner, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Usman Khawaja, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Eion Morgan, Chris Woakes, Dirk Nannes, Ajantha Mendis, Gurinder Sandhu, Luke Feldman.

Have made sweeping changes from the team that went winless last year - dumping West Indian masterblaster Chris Gayle in the process. No longer reliant on one man to fire, the Thunder should be challenging for the semi-finals.

Predicted finish: Fifth

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