Melbourne Renegades (0-0) v Sydney Thunder (0-1) @ Etihad Stadium
Preview - The Renegades kick off their 2016/17 BBL looking to rebound from a disappointing few years. The Renegades have not made the finals the past three years and that has led to a few changes to the squad as they search for the right combinations to take the next step. With a franchise winning record of just 45%, the Renegades made a big change signing Head Coach Andrew McDonald in August. McDonald, who also coaches the Victorian side, is very highly thought of as a young coach and is moving quickly up the ranks after his improved work at English County side Leicestershire. The Thunder are having to back up just two days after being walloped by 9 wickets by their Sydney rivals, the Sixers, at Spotless Stadium. In just an 8-game competition they will not want to dig an 0-2 hole to climb out of, so this match is a crucial one, even at this early juncture.
Melbourne Renegades Scouting Report - The Renegades might have lost Chris Gayle, and this is a big call, but I think they might have upgraded in getting Sunil Narine. Batsmen might win you games in this competition, but it’s often bowlers that win you trophies, and Narine is a superstar in the T20 format. With 241 wickets in 196 matches at an economy rate under 6 runs per over, he is the banker the Renegades bowling has been missing. Not only did the Renegades snap up Narine, but they lured Brad Hogg over from the West. Hogg has played a huge role in the Scorchers reaching four finals and winning two of them. Hogg might only average a wicket per game, however he only goes at 6.8 per over through 125 T20 matches, making him an extremely valuable commodity. Dwayne Bravo is the most experienced T20 cricketer on the planet, and through 343 games his canny change of pace has netted him 365 wickets. Bravo goes for 8 an over, but that’s about par, and he is a wicket taker and a game changer with the ball and in the field. So with Narine, Hogg and Bravo alongside fast bowling options James Pattinson, Nathan Rimmington, Chris Tremain and Peter Siddle, the Renegades have huge claims to being the best bowling line up on paper in the competition. Their bowling has let them down the last few years, but I really can't see that being the case this year.
The Renegades batting looks a little top heavy, however it's far from the worst batting line up in the competition. With Aaron Finch and Cameron White they have a truly world class opening batting pair. Finch is in the top 10 batsmen in the world in this format, averaging 34 with a strike rate of 137 through 162 games. Finch has been even more impressive in International T20s where his average soars to 38 and his strike rate to 150. Cameron White is no mug himself, averaging 30 with a strike rate of 127 in over 200 T20 games. The Renegades might be a little reliant on this pair, however the likes of Callum Ferguson, Tom Cooper, Dwayne Bravo and Peter Neville are good players in their own right. Overall I think this is the strongest side the Renegades have ever had, and if they don't make the finals it will be a gross disappointment with such an experienced and high quality squad to call upon.
Sydney Thunder Scouting Report - The Thunder have made two changes to their 13-player squad from the side that was thumped by the Sixers with Arjun Nair and Kerrod White coming in. There has been a lot of hype about Nair, the young off spinner with plenty of variations from Sydney’s West. Nair played Shield cricket last year and has starred from a very young age in First Grade and would be the sort of bowler that I think would thrive early in the Big Bash competition. The Renegades would not have seen much of him and his canny changes of wrist spin would be hard to read first up. The Thunder in general looked off the pace in their loss to the Sixers on Tuesday night, particularly their batting. Having lost Michael Hussey and Jacques Kallis, and throwing in the unavailability of Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson, the Thunder have probably the weakest batting line up in the competition. It's a tough ask for Kurtis Patterson and Ryan Gibson to open the batting, but Gibson did a great job. I would much prefer Eoin Morgan open the batting or Aiden Blizzard, someone who could genuinely take an attack apart. Pat Cummins might be batting a couple of spots too low based on what he showed compared to the likes of Jake Doran and Chris Green.
Even though the Thunder only picked up one wicket I didn't think they bowled too badly. Andrew Russell and Pat Cummins were not quite at their best, however Russell was desperately unlucky not to pick up Moises Henriques which would have changed the complexion of the game. I think with the experience of Clint McKay and the talented but raw grinder Sandha, this will develop into close to the best fast bowling cartel in the competition. Chris Green was steady with the ball, and if Arjun Nair can have the impact I think he is capable of having, all is far from lost for the Thunder. However they desperately need Shane Watson back from injury because you can't afford to drop 3 or 4 games in a row in this competition or your practically a dead duck.
Verdict - I'm going to leave the predictions for our superstar recruit "The Lurker". I think the Thunder will be better for the run and improve on what they did on Tuesday especially with the ball. The Renegades can ill afford to drop this game against an understrength side in front of their home fans. They are at close to full strength so there are really no excuses for them here. I expect the bowlers from both sides to have more of an impact in this game than they did in Adelaide last night.
The Lurker - "I'll be twisting the whiskers after going 3 from 3 tonight. The Renegades are morals at home here. They have one of the best bowling attacks in the competition, against one of the weakest batting outfits in the Thunder. Can't see the Thunder offering much besides a bit of banter in the change rooms and maybe a cheeky circuit at the Cas afterwards. Way too many really good Grade cricketers in their line-up. For your exotics, going to back Tom Cooper to get 25+ runs and also have a nibble at the Renegades to win by 21-40 or 5 to 7 wickets."