The Twenty20 Big Bash League is back so cancel your weekend plans, now. After the disappointment of the Australia v South Africa Test series the much-anticipated T20 Big Bash League for 2012/13 is sure to lift spirits.
A local derby between the Melbourne Renegades and Melbourne Stars will kick start the 2012/13 campaign this Friday night in a clash highlighted by the head to head of the two leading Test wickettakers, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan.
The action will then head north, when the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder meet in the Sydney derby on Saturday night at the SCG.
Round one will be brought to a close with a Sunday double-header. The Brisbane Heat take on the Hobart Hurricanes and the Perth Scorchers host the Adelaide Strikers.
Unlike last year when many of the teams were rushed in putting together a competitive outfit, the eight franchises look very even with a whole host of stars agreeing to play in the second edition of the T20 Big Bash.
How are your teams looking heading in to season two of the Big Bash?
Melbourne Renegades vs Melbourne Stars: Friday 7.00pm AEDT, Etihad Stadium.
Before Warnie even thinks about taking on the Poms in The Ashes, he has a Melbourne derby to worry about.
Preseason points went to the Stars when, unfortunately for the Renegades, both Brad Hodge and Glenn Maxwell switched alliances but the Renegades swiftly hit back when they acquired all-time leading Test wickettaker Muttiah Muralitharan.
The clash between the Sri Lankan wizard himself and the great Shane Keith Warne is an intriguing subplot within itself.
The Melbourne Stars batting line-up looks to have some serious firepower with the likes of Rob Quiney, Dave Hussey, Luke Wright and Brad Hodge.
This is complimented by a well-rounded bowling trio of Sri Lankan import Lasith Malinga, James Faulkner, Jackson Bird, Clint McKay and Warnie, and it is easy to see why the Stars go into the second season of the Big Bash League as raging title favourites.
The loss of Brad Hodge and Glenn Maxwell will have an impact on the Renegades ability to post winning targets consistently.
Aaron Finch getting a fast start is their best hope but even then, he will need help from the likes of Tom Cooper and Daniel Harris.
While full of experience, and despite having the leading test wicket taker, the Renegades bowling line-up lacks genuine match winners.
Jayde Herrick, Darren Pattinson, Nathan Rimmington and Brendan Drew will need to bowl as a unit if they’re any chance of upsetting their cross town rivals.
Tip: Melbourne Stars by plenty.
Sydney Sixers vs Sydney Thunder: Saturday 7.00pm AEDT, SCG.
Like the Melbourne derby, the Sydney derby promises to be just as entertaining.
At the expense of the this week’s rivals, the Sydney Sixers have added David Warner to their line-up but despite that loss the Thunder has recruited well.
Pakistani allrounder Azhar Mahmood, English wicketkeeper Matt Prior and New Zealand batsmen Martin Guptil are all capable of carrying a team to victory on their day.
But the man that puts bums on seats is West Indian superstar Chris Gayle.
Last season, Brett Lee got Gayle early for a six-ball duck and the Thunder went on to be 4/29 before rain interrupted the match. Get Chris Gayle early and you go a long way to securing victory against the Thunder outfit.
My worry for the Thunder is their bowling depth or lack of to be specific. T20 specialist Dirk Nannes will do a job and do it well, but the supporting cast is very thin.
Whether Dave Warner and Mitch Starc back up after a gruelling test series remains to be seen but either way, the Sixers have developed a great winning culture over a short period of time this will ensure that they are hard to beat.
Tip: Sydney Sixers to rain on the Thunder’s parade
Brisbane Heat vs Hobart Hurricanes: Sunday 6.00pm AEDT, GABBA.
The local derbies may have ended but this should be an entertaining match between two franchises who hold high hopes for successful campaigns.
Brisbane Heat were one of the competition favourites at the start of last season but did not live up to their promise.
While losing veteran Matthew Hayden, the Heat have picked up West Indian fast bowler Kemar Roach along with troubled batsman Luke Pomersbach and talented youngster Joe Burns.
They’ve had some bad luck, with one-game star Dale Steyn not allowed to play, while Daniel Vettori is out of the campaign with an achilles tendon injury.
However, their biggest pick up is that of Australian vice captain Shane Watson.
A nice blend of youth and experience, if they can get past the loss of a few veterans, I expect the Heat to be major players this season.
Their opposition Hobart Hurricanes surprised many last season by reaching the finals before being knocked out by eventual champions the Sydney Sixers in a tight encounter. I expect them to push for finals contention once again considering they have an almost identical squad.
The return of Tim Paine as well as former Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting joining them for a full campaign will only enhance their chances in season two.
They also retained both of last season’s leading run scorers in Owais Shah and Travis Birt.
Two good spinners in Doherty and Krejza plus Doug Bollinger, Michael Hogan and Ben Laughlin as quicks makes them competitive unit.
This contest looks to be a tight affair but the home ground advantage may be the incentive the Heat need to get their campaign rolling.
Tip: Brisbane Heat in a toss of the coin
Perth Scorchers versus Adelaide Strikers: Sunday 9.00pm AEDT, WACA
The fortunes of both the Scorchers and Strikers have changed since last season.
The Strikers have added depth to both batting and bowling in recruiting the likes of Phil Hughes, Nathan Reardon, Kieron Pollard, Saeed Ajmal, Shaun Tait and the full time commitment of Captain Johan Botha.
While on the other hand, The Scorchers have lost Mitch Marsh and Pat Cummins to injury, international Albie Morkel has been a late withdrawal (replaced by Alfonso Thomas) from the tournament.
They also have numerous players struggling on the domestic front which seems to be a real worry.
The Scorchers will rely heavily on South African veteran, Herschelle Gibbs, Shaun Marsh and Simon Katich and Marcus North while look for Nathan Coulter-Nile to step up after having tasting higher level honours when selected for Australia A earlier when they played South Africa and as always, watch for Brad Hogg to be full of energy.
Despite the Scorchers being tough to beat at home, their recent domestic woes are of real concern and with Phil Hughes in sparking form and the experience of skipper, Johan Botha at the helm, the Strikers are a live threat.
Tip: Adelaide Strikers away from home.