By James Willoughby
Sydney Thunder will look to bounce back from a first-up loss in the 2012-13 KFC Twenty20 Big Bash League when they host the Melbourne Renegades at ANZ Stadium on Friday.
The Thunder – who will welcome hard-hitting West Indian batsman Chris Gayle into the fold for the match – lost a local derby to defending champions Sydney Sixers by seven wickets.
Posting a meagre total of 5-143 from their 20 overs, the Thunder sorely missed the firepower Gayle is capable of bringing to the table and were never likely to defend a score so small on the SCG.
Paceman Chris Tremain (2-27 off four overs) showed promising signs with the ball while the likes of Ryan Carters (33 not out), Sean Abbott (24 not out) and Chris Rogers (23) also impressed.
The Renegades also opened the season with a derby and were thankful to captain Aaron Finch for firing them to victory.
Chasing 168 to win against the Melbourne Stars at Etihad Stadium, Finch blasted 111 not out to fire his side to an eight-wicket win achieved with 10 balls to spare.
Ben Rohrer (34 not out) looked in good touch in his short stay at the crease while more is expected from veteran Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan (0-28 off four) as the tournament progresses.
Like their opponents, the Renegades will also call on a West Indies star to bolster their side.
Marlon Samuels – one of the key ingredients in his country's ICC World Twenty20 win in October and fresh off a 43-ball 85 against Bangladesh on Monday that included nine sixes – is expected to play in the match and will add further strength to the Renegades side.
Gayle v Renegades bowlers
With his 434 runs in his Twenty20 Big Bash career in Australia coming at an average of 39 and a strike rate of 166, Gayle is the all-important wicket from a Renegades perspective. He is particularly strong down the ground and the short boundaries at ANZ Stadium make him even more dangerous in front of the Thunder's home fans.
How the Renegades bowl to the West Indian – whether it is by dismissing him early or if they are able to contain his aggression – will be crucial. Finch may be tempted to use spin against the left-hander in the early stages of his innings and Muralitharan could not hope to claim anyone else as his first Renegades scalp.
Abbott was only at the crease for 14 balls in the Thunder's opener but showcased his hitting power in the cameo. He may be promoted up the order for this clash and averages a handy 21.80 in Twenty20 cricket.
The 20-year-old is also a handy bowler and averages 22.23 with the ball, with 13 wickets in as many Twenty20 matches. Abbott was expensive against the Sixers, finishing with 1-40 off 3.4 overs, but he his all-round ability could be handy for the Thunder this season.
The Renegades won by six runs in last season's clash, also held at ANZ Stadium.
Brad Hodge (44) and Finch (41) gave the winners the perfect start but they faded badly and a score of 8-140 did not look like it would be enough.
Gayle (75) got going early for the Thunder but not one of his team-mates passed 20 as tight bowling from the likes of Shahid Afridi (3-21 off four) and Shane Harwood (2-26 off three) restricted the hosts to 7-134 from their 20 overs.
Sydney Thunder: Chris Rogers (Captain), Sean Abbott, Cameron Borgas, Ryan Carters, Mark Cosgrove, Luke Doran, Chris Gayle, Usman Khawaja, Azhar Mahmood, Dirk Nannes, Gurinder Sandhu, Chris Tremain, Adam Zampa
Melbourne Renegades: Aaron Finch (c), Daniel Harris, Marlon Samuels ,Ben Rohrer ,Peter Nevill, Tom Cooper ,Will Sheridan ,Aaron O’Brien ,Nathan Rimmington ,Michael Hill ,Darren Pattinson ,Muthiah Muralidaran, Brendan Drew
Facts and figures:
Of the 11 players who featured in the Renegades' win over the Stars last week, only Finch played in a victory with the club last season.
Finch's stunning century against the Stars came from just 65 deliveries and saw him hit 12 fours and four sixes. It is the second-highest score in Australian Twenty20 history, only behind Luke Wright's 117 for the Melbourne Stars last season.
The five highest wicket-takers for the Renegades last season (Afridi, Harwood, Dirk Nannes, Shaun Tait, Aaron Heal) do not play for them anymore.
Abbott hit a six that travelled 101 metres against the Sixers on Saturday. It was the biggest six of all opening round Big Bash League matches.