Warne and Murali meet in BBL opener
Muttiah Muralitharan could be forgiven for being a little vexed this Friday night. The Big Bash League begins with a cross-town battle between the Melbourne Renegades and the Melbourne Stars. Muralitharan will make his BBL debut for the Renegades, having been lured there by Brad Hodge and Andrew McDonald, whom he got to know during the IPL. Last summer, McDonald was captain of the Renegades and Hodge their star batsman. This season, neither is there anymore.
McDonald signed with the Adelaide Strikers, and in any case has now suffered a hamstring injury that will rule him out of the whole tournament. Hodge is playing in the BBL. In fact, he's playing in Friday's season opener. It just happens to be for the Stars. A philosophical Muralitharan said he wouldn't be seeking revenge when the teams meet, because he was happy to have been convinced to be part of the tournament.
"When I was playing for Royal Challengers [Bangalore], Hodge and McDonald convinced me to come and play," Muralitharan said in Melbourne on Thursday. "At the time they were in the Renegades and unfortunately now they're not there. Still, we have a good side. Thanks to them, because of them I am here.
"[Hodge] convinced me to come and play. After that he went to the Stars. I called him [to find out why he left], just a friendly call, that's all. No revenge as such. We want to play a good game."
The Hodge-Muralitharan battle will be just one of the sub-plots in the Melbourne derby. There is also the much more significant attraction of seeing Test cricket's two leading wicket-takers on opposing sides, which might not happen again after this tournament. Warne is the captain of the Stars and the BBL is his only playing commitment nowadays, while Muralitharan has suggested this might be his last year of Twenty20.
A week away from the Test series between Australia and Sri Lanka, who play for the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy, the men for whom the prize is named were reflecting on their careers as they prepared for one more contest. Muralitharan joked that given the large Sri Lankan population in Melbourne he might even be more popular in the city than Shane Warne, but he said he had the ultimate respect for what Warne had achieved during his career.
"His art is very difficult," Muralitharan said. "Legspin, I have tried it when I was young, and it was very hard to do. If you can land the ball like him, it's very hard. Not many people can do it. Once in a hundred years you get a bowler like him. I have a lot of respect for him [now] and in our playing days as well."
Warne said Muralitharan, or "the whirly-twirly man" as he referred to him, would bring a lot to the BBL in his first appearance in the tournament. Warne remembered seeing Muralitharan for the first time on Australia's tour of Sri Lanka in 1992, when he played for the Sri Lanka Board President's XI in a tour match, and although the only batsman he dismissed was Tony Dodemaide, he baffled the Australians with his unusual style.
"It was a tour game in Kandy when we first saw Murali in '92," Warne said. "Allan Border said to Murali 'what are you bowling?' He'd played for legspin.
"He's bamboozled batsmen for the best part of 20 years the way he goes about it. Facing Murali is very tough, he does some wonderful things with the ball. For what Murali has done for the game, what he has done for Sri Lanka ... and to be still playing and bowling extremely well, it's fantastic."
Muralitharan won't be the only Sri Lankan playing in Friday night's game, with Lasith Malinga set to line up for the Stars. Another Sri Lankan, allrounder Thisara Perera, will also be part of the BBL after joining the Brisbane Heat as a last-minute inclusion following their loss of Dale Steyn and Daniel Vettori.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here