BENGAKURU: Retaining players ahead of the auction is always a tricky affair. Sometimes it works wonders and sometimes, a massive failure. In that context, Shivamogga Lions must be proud of their big decision, which they had taken before the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) auctions last month. The franchise had retained Nihal Ullal.
It looked like a gamble then, considering his below-par effort last season. The talented wicketkeeper-batsman did not even manage 100 runs in his five matches, but Shivamogga did not ignore his impressive record in KSCA tournaments. Ullal proved his worth with a 60-ball 88, helping his team win their first match of the season, against Hubli Tigers, by six wickets at M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday.
"I did not feel that kind of pressure even after I was retained, as I had been doing well in local leagues. Last season too, I got off to starts but failed to convert them. So when I got a good start today, I was keen to make it count and see my team through, which I did. It is very important to start the competition on a good note. Scoring good runs in the first match will give me the confidence for future matches as well," Ullal told this newspaper.
Chasing 155 to win, opener Ullal, in the second over itself, played the shot of the match. Aditya Somanna pitched the ball up and the right-hander caressed it through the cover region and held that pose even after the ball had crossed the ropes. There was no looking back for him as he looked superb on the off side, not afraid to hit the ball aerially over the infield.
The scattered crowd was treated to a high level of willow artistry by the 26-year-old, who gave his team a wonderful start, with Lions reaching 54/1 in the powerplay. He hit seven fours and one six in the first six overs, but it was his array of shots all around the park that grabbed attention. He drove the ball, reeled out pulls, and brought in cheeky dabs, making bowlers sweat.
He stole the show even when Pavan Deshpande, the most expensive buy at the auction, was at the crease. Ullal was at utter ease against both spinners and pacers as he remained not out on 88, which included 11 fours and three sixes. M Nidish hit two boundaries on the trot to win the game for Shivamogga in the 18th over.
Though Ullal played a big hand in the win, one also needs to applaud the performance of Shivamogga's bowlers earlier in the evening. Pradeep T and Rishabh Singh set the tone, taking three wickets each to dismiss Hubli for 154.