by Niall Seewang
A TOURNAMENT-opening blockbuster, two cross-town rivals, an off-season brimming with tension, a possible record crowd, some of the biggest hitters in the game and the two finest spin bowlers the world has ever seen.
That's what is in store for the opening match of the 2012 BBL02 season, between the Melbourne Renegades and Stars at Etihad Stadium on December 7.
Renegades coach Simon Helmot admitted a first-up victory would be a huge boost to his team.
"If we begin well, the group will gain confidence. In a short tournament of only eight games, every win is vital, but the first win is super important," he told melbournerenegades.com.au.
"We play them (the Stars) twice in the fixture so it's really important to gain the ascendancy. The BBL is all about gaining momentum – within games and in the tournament as a whole."
Two players who could prove crucial in the contest are Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne - the two greatest Test bowlers the world has ever seen. They could be doing battle on the big stage for the final time.
At ages when they could be excused for sitting back and watching the game, Renegades recruit Muralitharan (133 Tests, 800 wickets at 22.72) and Stars captain Warne (145 Tests, 708 wickets at 25.41) will be in the spotlight again.
The two veterans are still highly effective combatants in the shortest form of the game - Muralitharan especially.
Despite retiring from Test cricket in 2010, the Kandy-born offie is still one of the most attacking yet economical twenty20 bowlers on the planet.
Helmot, who met with Muralitharan in Sri Lanka in July this year, says spin bowling is a crucial element of twenty20 cricket, and expects his star recruit to lead from the front.
"A big lesson from last year's Big Bash was the success of the more experienced spinners in Stuart MacGill, Brad Hogg and Warne, and Murali's no different," he said. "He's always miserly and that often results in wicket-taking opportunities.
"He's very enthusiastic about coming to Australia and especially playing in Melbourne, where there's a strong Sri Lankan influence. He's a proud man who wants success."
The Renegedes' other international gun set to play in the derby is Faf du Plessis, fresh from a match-saving 110* on debut for South Africa against Australia. He will play a single game before being replaced by hard-hitting West Indian all-rounder Marlon Samuels.
But it's not all about big-name recruits. Helmot says a key element of the Renegades' short and long-term future was an ability to mould a well-rounded, flexible squad that can grow as a unit.
"Clearly we want success after last year and we want to forge long-lasting relationships within the squad. We want them involved for multiple years," he said.
"There was a high turnover from last year's squad and I guess we didn't perform well enough last season.
"This year's squad – we wanted to develop a more versatile bowling group that can sustain pressure for long periods of time. We need them to be supported by a great fielding group…. And we need to have a multi-dimensional batsmen."
The squad is certainly laden with game-breaking talent including re-signed Victorians Aaron Finch, Jayde Herrick, Will Sheridan, Meyrick Buchanan and Michael Hill, one-off English Test player Darren Pattinson, ex-Scorcher Nathan Rimmington, former Strikers trio Daniel Harris, Aaron O’Brien and Tom Cooper and ex-Sixers pair Ben Rohrer and Peter Nevill.
With so much on the line for both the Renegades and the Stars, it's no wonder a huge crowd is expected to pile into Etihad Stadium for the derby.
Renegades CEO Stuart Coventry hopes to break two attendance records - the Australian domestic twenty20 record of 43,125 set during in the 2010 Big Bash; and the Etihad Stadium record for a cricket game of 38,864 set when Australia’s hosted South Africa in a one-day contest in 2006.
And as well as the cricketing fireworks, fans will also be treated to a motorcycle spectacular when freestyle moto x riders perform incredible stunts high over the turf.
The daredevil Renegades Freestyle Moto X Team includes some of the world’s best freestyle riders to provide an extreme edge to the season-opening contest.
Head in early to avoid the queues and catch the moto x excitement from 6.30pm.