Spin kings set to have a bash

Aaron Finch captains the Melbourne Renegades.
Aaron Finch captains the Melbourne Renegades.

JUST over 20 years since Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralidaran first faced each other on rival teams, the spin legends will do so again on Friday night when the Big Bash League season opens in Melbourne.

Warne, 43, will lead the Melbourne Stars, while Muralidaran, 40, will occupy the primary spin role for the Melbourne Renegades in the city's second Twenty20 derby that, unlike the first, will definitely not be spoiled by rain as the match is being held at the roofed Etihad Stadium.

There was no animosity evident as the pair, who duelled for the Tests wicket record before Sri Lankan Muralidaran decisively triumphed, met on Thursday.

Warne marvelled at how Muralidaran had ''bamboozled batsmen for the best part of 20 years''. In return, Muralidaran said he, unlike Warne, had not been skilful enough to be a leg-spinner and reckoned that only ''once in a hundred years you can get a bowler like him''.

Both bowlers are retired from all but domestic Twenty20 and are coming off long periods without featuring in an official match - 3½ months for Muralidaran, 10½ months for Warne - but they are confident of a proficient first-up showing on Friday night.

Muralidaran, and possibly also Warne, could go into the match with spin deputies.

Former South Australia left-armer Aaron O'Brien is favoured to take the Renegades' secondary spin spot but is facing a surprisingly stiff challenge from Fawad Ahmed, the Pakistani leg-spinner who has been a prolific wicket-taker in club and Renegades practice matches since being granted an Australian visa last month.

''Twenty20 is about wickets - [if] you take wickets you restrict the run rate and you halt momentum from the other side,'' Renegades captain Aaron Finch said.

''It's a bit of a catch-22, whether you use that guy as a holding guy who really puts run-rate pressure on the team [O'Brien], or you go for an out-and-out wicket-taker [Ahmed]. That's a decision we're going to have to make.''

Glenn Maxwell's absence for the Stars - he was called up for the Chairman's XI match - has left a vacancy likely to be filled by Jackson Bird or Clive Rose. Paceman Bird would be a greater wicket-taking threat but finger-spinning all-rounder Rose would be more of a like-for-like replacement for Maxwell.

Both teams lost their opening matches last season. While the Stars recovered somewhat to finish fourth, the Renegades floundered badly to finish seventh, prompting an overhaul so severe Finch and Will Sheridan are set to be the only season-one survivors against the Stars.

Despite recruits such as Ben Rohrer, Peter Nevill and Nate Rimmington not coming close to Stars counterparts such as Brad Hodge and Lasith Malinga in terms of public profile, Finch endorsed the credentials of the new Renegades against the team he reckoned considered itself the ''World XI''.

''It's a very different look, I suppose,'' he said. ''We've gone for guys who are proven performers … and are 360-degree players. Last year we probably went for more of a brute-force middle order, this year we're after guys who can complement the start rather than be all-or-nothing players.''

Warne, who has replaced Cameron White as captain of the Stars, stressed the importance of the team winning early matches and not having to rely on a late surge to qualify for finals, as it did last season.

''The first few games are crucial … because you probably need five wins to make the semi-final and if you win your first couple it takes a lot of pressure off,'' he said.

The Renegades were hopeful the match at Etihad Stadium would attract more than 30,000 spectators. Just over 40,000 attended the inaugural derby, held 11 months ago at the MCG.

RENEGADES (from): Aaron Finch (c), Fawad Ahmed, Tom Cooper, Faf du Plessis, Daniel Harris, Michael Hill, Muthiah Muralidaran, Peter Nevill, Aaron O'Brien, Darren Pattinson, Nate Rimmington, Ben Rohrer, Will Sheridan.

STARS (from): Shane Warne (c), Jackson Bird, James Faulkner, Peter Handscomb, Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Clint Mckay, Lasith Malinga, Rob Quiney, Clive Rose, Matthew Wade, Cameron White, Luke Wright.

This story Spin kings set to have a bash first appeared on The Age.