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Big Bash kicks off with Shane Warne up against Muttiah Muralitharan

Shane Warne: Will lead Melbourne Stars

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Australia's annual Big Bash Twenty20 competition kicks off on Friday with a showdown between cricket's most successful bowlers.

Melbourne Stars, led by Shane Warne, take on Melbourne Renegades - who include Muttiah Muralitharan in their line-up - in Friday's opening match, live on Sky.

The tournament has been hit by a series of late withdrawals by international stars, with only West Indies' stars there in any numbers.

Australia are playing a Test series with Sri Lanka at the same time, ruling the players of both teams out of most the competition.

Four England players will be taking part in the tournament - Luke Wright (Stars), Matt Prior (Sydney Thunder), Michael Lumb (Sydney Sixers) and Owais Shah (Hobart Hurricanes).

Muralitharan and Warne, top and second in the all-time Test wickets table, go head-to-head in the opener and the Australia legend's Stars are the favourites to the win the tournament.

Warne will have the likes of Lasith Malinga, Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Glenn Maxwell and Sussex all-rounder Wright to call upon in a team with an excellent blend of youth and experience.

The defending champions, the Sydney Sixers, have lost Shane Watson but signed David Warner to replace him at the top of the order and they will also have Sunile Narine - arguably the finest T20 bowler in the world - as their spinner.

Lumb is likely to open and the Sixers - who have a much younger team than the Stars - are most likely to challenge Warne's men.

Sydney Thunder will have Prior after England's Test series in India finishes, and he will have the chance to play with West Indies superstar Chris Gayle.

Adelaide will be hoping Kieron Pollard scores big runs because the bowling looks thin, but Brisbane are dark horses, with Watson - Australia's finest T20 player - their key man. They have fast bowling firepower in James Hopes, Mitchell Johnson and Kemar Roach.

Shah will have the chance to play alongside Ricky Ponting for Hobart, with Scott Styris - superb for Sussex last season - their other overseas star and watch out for Travis Birt, one of the biggest hitters in world cricket.

Muralitharan's Renegades were awful last year but they have Marlon Samuels who finally realized his talent and won the ICC World Twenty20 for the West Indies more or less single-handedly.