Paliwal, Saini tons further North control
North Zone led East Zone by 559 runs in the semi-final of the Duleep Trophy after the third day, thanks to four of their batsmen scoring centuries. Unmukt Chand, the first to reach the mark, was joined by Ian Dev Singh, Rajat Paliwal and Nitin Saini before captain Harbhajan Singh furthered North's advantage by removing East's opener Pallavkumar Das two overs before stumps.
Ian Dev, who had retired hurt on 95 on the second day, returned to the crease after Mandeep Singh's dismissal in the morning session. He seemed to have shrugged off his discomfort as he charged Shahbaz Nadeem to loft him over extra cover for his 12th four, which took him to a seventh first-class century.
He had good support from Paliwal, who reached a half-century, but should have been out lbw soon after to Basant Mohanty. The seamer, however, had overstepped and East were made to pay as Paliwal and Ian Dev added 107 runs for the fourth wicket. Paliwal's innings suffered a roadblock in the 149th over when a bout of cramps caused him to exit the field. His replacement, Saini, was breezy throughout his knock, picking up four sixes and eight fours.
North's search for quick runs resulted in a period when they lost five wickets for 40 runs, including Ian Dev who mistimed a slog against offspinner Sunny Gupta, who finished as East's best bowler with 4 for 182 after 46 overs.
Paliwal limped back to the crease in the third session, and during a 70-run stand for the ninth wicket with Saini, completed his fifth first-class century. Saini was the more dominant of the two, though he too benefited from a reprieve in the 166th over when a hoick off a full toss was dropped at long-on. He continued attacking the bowlers, striking Gupta for two consecutive sixes in the 190th over and the declaration came on the stroke of Saini's 137-ball ton, a few overs later.
The East openers Das and Rameez Nemat were highly circumspect at the start, scoring only nine runs in seven overs. But just as they were looking comfortable, Harbhajan lured Das out of his crease with a tossed up delivery and wicketkeeper Saini did the rest.
Centuries from Abhinav Mukund and B Aparajith and strong middle-order contributions helped South Zone take a mammoth 258-run lead against Central Zone in Chennai. With only a day to go in the match, South Zone are almost through to the final.
Mukund and Aparajith, the two overnight batsman, thwarted the bowling and added 190 runs for the third wicket, taking South well past Central's first-innings score of 209. Mukund's was a more sedate innings, but Aparajith brought up his second hundred in consecutive matches, hitting three sixes in his innings. Both were dismissed with the score on 263, but Manish Pandey and CM Gautam added 147 runs for the fifth wicket, reaching their respective half-centuries along the way.
At the end of the day's play, South were still left with a wicket in hand. Piyush Chawla picked up four wickets, but leaked 159 runs in his 43 overs. Umesh Yadav picked up just one wicket in his 25 overs.