West Zone expanded their advantage to 384 on a rain-hit third day, riding on Pujara’s 133 off 278 balls after starting the day at 149 for 3. Cheteshwar Pujara delivered an intent-filled century to help West Zone reach 292 for 9 in their second innings against Central Zone, putting his team firmly on the route to the Duleep Trophy final on Friday.
After opening the day at 149 for 3, West expanded their lead to a commanding 384 on a rain-hit third day that forced an early closure. Pujara, who turned 50 overnight, got into his groove quickly and never gave the bowlers a chance. He batted for 366 minutes and hit 14 boundaries and a six.
The Central got off to a good start by dismissing Sarfaraz Khan in the first over of the day. The Mumbai teen edged left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar to stump Upendra Yadav, who clung to a relatively easy chance. It also marked the conclusion of a dismal campaign for him, bringing his record to 0 and 6.
At the other end, the Central bowlers continued to cause problems for the batters, but Pujara remained unmoved. The Saurashtra star made his intentions clear in the first session, hitting 102 balls for 42 runs with three fours. Pujara, as is his wont, removed all risks from his game at this point and gave shots only to balls that deserved to be put away.
Het Patel, who scored 27 points, was the primary scorer in this period, and the right-hander was also quite lovely in the eyes. Pujara stopped for lunch on 92 and lost no time returning to the landmark. Pujara completed his century with fours, one through the cover and one behind the point fielder.
Pujara changed into a different batter after reaching the milestone. Saurabh and off-spinner Saransh Jain, who combined for seven wickets, were put to the sword. He also delivered some eye-catching smashes, including a six off Saurabh. Pujara sent the ball soaring over mid-wicket with a simple flick of his wrists as the ball drifted on his leg. Then there were the classic flicks off the pads from pacers and spinners, who performed most of the bowling as West raced ahead of Central’s reach.
Pujara sought to keep the strike with wickets falling all around him, and his attempt to grab a quick single off the last delivery of an over culminated in his run-out. But by then, he’d done enough to clinch the match’s fate. If there is no play on the last day, West will enter the final with a 92-run lead in the first innings.
Vyshak wins the Duleep Trophy, putting South Zone on track to beat 215 points.
Vyshak’s (5/76 in 15 overs) old ball burst reduced North Zone to 171 for 8 before they were bowled out for 211.
Pacer Vyshak Vijaykumar triggered a middle-order collapse with a five-wicket haul, putting South Zone on track to beat North Zone in their Duleep Trophy semi-final here on Friday. Vyshak’s (5/76 in 15 overs) burst with the old ball saw North Zone sink to 171 for 8 before being bowled out for 211 in just 56.4 overs in their second innings on a rain-soaked day three.
South Zone openers B Sai Sudharsan (3 batting) and seasoned Mayank Agarwal (15 batting) knocked off 21 off the goal before the heavens opened up in the penultimate session and will be hoping that the weather does not play spoilsport on the final day.
The South Zone batters would also like to remember that they surrendered a slim but crucial three-run advantage in the first innings, which could be critical on the final day if they don’t receive enough time to chase the target.
Earlier in the day, another Karnataka pacer, Vidwath Kaverappa (2/47 in 17 overs), got Ankit Kalsi (29) to nick one behind the stumps to Ricky Bhui. However, the highly skilled Prabhsimran Singh (63 off 93 balls) and Haryana’s Ankit Kumar (29) made amends with an 85-run fourth-wicket stand.
Vyshak bowled a possibly game-changing spell with the old ball just as North was on the verge of a 150-run advantage. R Sai Kishore caught a well-set Prabhsimran and then dismissed Jayant Yadav and Pulkit Narang in three deliveries. A few overs later, the dangerous Nishant Sindhu was out, and there was no way North could have recovered.
Harshit Rana (38 off 36 balls), who also had a strong cameo in the first innings, used the long handle effectively to push the score above 200. While North Zone could not make a breakthrough on the day, they would be buoyed that South, after cruising through the first two innings, stumbled dramatically to surrender the lead. Much will rely on how North captain Jayant Yadav and his off-spin partner Pulkit Narang perform on the last day and whether they can get some help from the surface.
Not having a single left-arm spinner could hamper their cause, especially after seeing how R Sai Kishore of South Zone performed (3/28 in 7.4 overs). North Zone 195, North Zone 211 in 56.4 overs (Prabhsimran Singh 63, Vyshak Vijaykumar 5/76). South Zone 195 and (goal 215) 21/0.
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