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The defending champions, Belgavi Panthers, started their campaign with an unexpected loss against Bengaluru Blasters in the opening game of the tournament. They are set to meet the last year's runners-up, Bijapur Bulls, and will be looking to repeat the proceedings of last year's final. The Bulls, on the other hand, have revamped their side in the auction and appear to be well-equipped to take on the Panthers. They, too, are coming on the back of a loss, albeit not as big as Panthers' but a loss nonetheless.
Panthers are, on paper, one of the strongest sides in the tournament, boasting of best T20 talents in Karnataka. They have the likes of Stalin Hoover, Stuart Binny, and recently acquired Manish Pandey in their lineup along with some promising youngsters. However, their performance in the first match, against Bengaluru Blasters, was completely overshadowed by Uthappa's impeccable innings.
The Panthers appeared to be out of ideas with the ball which carried on when they came out with the bat in hand. After getting blasted for 228 in 20 overs, Panthers never really got hold of the chase and were eventually restricted for 228. Early loss of Stalin Hoover for a first ball duck was one of many reasons for their utter failure.
The eighteen-year-old left-arm spinner, Shubhang Hegde, made a name for himself in KCSA League Cricket and his contest against Uthappa was well anticipated. Uthappa, however, was severe on both the spinners early in the innings. Hedge bounced back with a couple of economical overs but failed to pick up a wicket. Dikshanshu Negi, on the other hand, picked up a wicket but gave away runs at an economy rate of 13 in his three overs. Stuart Binny was their most successful bowlers as he returned with the figures of 4-0-37-3.
The target of 229 was always going to be difficult, regardless of the surface or batting, and it didn't prove to be any different. There was a small partnership between Kirmani and Negi after the early loss of Hoover, but that consumed too many deliveries, which gradually dragged the Panthers towards eventual loss. HS Sharath was their best batsmen; he scored 49 off just 25 deliveries before he was stumped off Anand.
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Hubli Tigers scripted history when they defeated the Bulls in the second match of this year's KPL. After emerging on top in five earlier occasions, the Bulls finally succumbed to the pressure created by Mohammad Taha and Mahesh Patel to get their first defeat of the tournament and against the Tigers.
After winning the toss and batting first, the Bulls started off well despite the loss of Bhavane with skipper Bharat Chipli and Anurag Bajpai adding 45 runs for the second wicket. Although it was a steady start and the duo laid a good platform for a late-assault, the middle-order batsmen failed to cash in and batted with little responsibility. The late-assault they were looking for did come eventually by MG Naveen's quickfire 44, but it was too late and too little. They were eventually restricted for 128 for 7 and needed a miracle from their bowlers to win from there.
Their bowlers tried hard and kept chipping away with the wickets which kept the Bulls well in the game throughout the innings. Mohammad Taha was let off a couple of times before Appanna finally found him short, thanks to his rocket-throw from the deep. SN Raju and KC Carippa were excellent with the ball as they returned with the figures of 3-0-21-2 and 4-0-17-1 respectively. Despite that, the Tigers expectedly crawled home with six four wickets and seven balls to spare.
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It always gets interesting when the teams of previous year's finale meet for the first time in the current year's clash. Both the teams plugged some holes in the auction and looked pretty happy post that. Coming on the back of losses, both Belgavi and Bijapur will be looking for a win to climb up in the points table. Although the Bulls have excellent spinners who could do well on Hubli's surface, the Panthers have the batting lineup who could do well against quality bowlers. Boasting of two of the best all-rounders in the state in Hoover and Binny along with some talented individuals, the Panthers appear well set to topple the Bulls and repeat the result of last year's finale.
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