Last year's prediction that the Melbourne Renegades had no chance of winning the Big Bash saw egg and my face come into alignment as the squad took advantage of the low and slow pitches at home to make it through to the final where they beat city rivals the Stars in a thrilling match that saw them come back from the dead.
Much of the Renegades success last year was built off the back of a nice balance of experience and youth. Dan Christian, a man who has played T20 cricket all over the world throughout his long career is back to lead the team and he has plenty of able lieutenants to help him marshall the troops. Aaron Finch missed most of last season as a result of his ill-fated Test call-up but he will be available this year for the first 4 weeks of the tournament before he goes off to captain Australia's white-ball team. The evergreen Cameron White has departed for pastures new but in his place, The Renegades have secured former international Shaun Marsh who is the 10th all-time highest run-scorer in BBL history.
Shaun Marsh is the 10th highest all-time run-scorer in BBL history but has achieved that feat from significantly fewer innings than anyone above him. Could he end up being the signing of the tournament for The Renegades?
At the other end of the spectrum, last season's BBL saw break out years for Sam Harper and Mackenzie Harvey at the top of the order. With Finch and Marcus Harris missing the 2 youngsters were thrown into the spotlight and performed admirably to help their side get off to solid starts. Harper, the older of the 2 players and a keeper-batsman, has been involved with Victoria this summer in both the Sheffield Shield and Marsh Cup but has struggled to make any meaningful impact thus far. Harvey who has only just turned 19, has been consistent in his performances for the national team at age-group level but has had limited opportunities at first-class level. Given the Renegades lack of major alternatives as a keeper-batsmen, it seems likely that Harper will be involved from the off whereas Harvey may need to wait for Finch to depart for the India ODI series that begins in mid-January.
In terms of their overseas stars, the Renegades have generally stuck with the tried and trusted. Mohammed Nabi is one of my favourite white ball cricketers around at the moment and his wiley off-spin should again be perfectly suited to the slower conditions the Renegades play home matches in. Unfortunately, Nabi will not be available until the new year which could be a major blow for the Renegades hopes of retaining their title. Faheem Ashraf is Nabi's replacement and the Pakistani all-rounder has some very big boots to fill! Pakistani left-armer Shinwari who had a successful stint in Melbourne last year returns for the first part of this season and will be replaced by another left-armer in England's Harry Gurney later on.
Home form was a large contributor to the Renegades success last season as they won 5 out of 7 of the games played at the Docklands (AKA Marvel) Stadium. The drop-in pitches there made for some fairly low scoring affairs but the Renegades certainly won't mind and once again they seem to have tailored their squad to deal with those conditions. Change-up bowlers like Kane Richardson (highest wicket-taker in last years competition) and Harry Gurney had plenty of success while the likes of Christian, Nabi and Cameron Boyce know that taking pace off the ball and bowling wicket to wicket will put opposition batsmen under pressure.
The Docklands Stadium hosts both AFL and cricket games and has a retractable roof. The stadium's playing surface has come under criticism from fans of both sports for the poor quality of the pitch
Batting wise the Renegades will go hard in the power-play (that's a given for most teams) but with the likes of Marsh and Cooper, they also have players who can accumulate in those middle overs and set a platform for guys like Nabi and Christian to launch an assault late on. The real key for the Renegades last year was understanding what a competitive score was in a tournament that provided very few high scoring games and then having the batsmen to deliver that total and the bowlers to defend it - it sounds much simpler than it really is but don't back against this Renegades team to manage it again!