BBL can overcome loss of stars Warne and Gayle

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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.

© AAP 2014