Rahul 168* hands South Zone lead
South Zone 308 for 4 (Rahul 168*, Uthappa 80, Pankaj 3-55) lead Central Zone 276 (Bist 79) by 32 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
KL Rahul, Robin Uthappa and Pankaj Singh pushed their claims for an India spot with national selectors Saba Karim and Vikram Rathour watching on the second day of the Duleep Trophy final in Delhi. Rahul, the 22-year old Karnataka batsman, was unbeaten on his highest first-class score of 168 while Uthappa made 80 in an opening partnership of 168 with his state team-mate. Pankaj reverse-swung the middle order out with a three-wicket burst after tea, but South Zone had pulled ahead again by stumps.
Rahul, who had made 1033 runs in the previous Ranji Trophy season, was in near-absolute control of his game from the moment he left his first ball, from Pankaj, outside off. There was considerable swing with the new ball, but Rahul drove with confidence, reaching the pitch and playing close to the body. He put away short balls through the day with unhurried pulls off the front foot. His defence was assured and safe, and he scored at a strike-rate of around 80 without taking any risk.
His game didn't change when his landmarks approached. He moved to 50 with swept and pulled fours, lofted a six over deep midwicket against the turn to reach 99, and brought up 150 with flicked and driven fours. Three of his five first-class hundreds have been 150-plus, and all have been over 130, a mark after which he said he had tended to tire in the past.
Uthappa wasn't as assured at the start, but slowly started getting his forward stride going, and several straight drives followed when the bowlers over-pitched. Uthappa went to lunch on 18 off 47 deliveries, and reeled off 62 off his next 50. He was the only batsman to make a fifty-plus score in the semi-final against East Zone in Lahli with his 120, the next-highest score on either side being 32.
Central, whose last three wickets had lasted 13 overs in the morning, had only two frontline fast bowlers. One of them, Ishwar Pandey, was not consistent enough with his lines and lengths. To add to that, there was nothing in the pitch for spin, and captain Piyush Chawla and left-arm spinner Ali Murtaza were taken for plenty. It was allrounder Jalaj Saxena who broke through with his offspin, trapping Uthappa in front in his second over.
There was no stopping Rahul, though, and B Aparajith had also settled in when Pankaj rattled South with three strikes in the space of eight balls. Aparajith edged a straightening delivery behind for 21. Dinesh Karthik went leg-before second ball as he missed a reversing inswinger. R Prasanna was set up with a few wide ones angling away before one closer to off stump held its line for another catch to the wicketkeeper. Pankaj's spell, broken by the tea interval, read 10-1-33-3. He went off the field with a bruised knee after that.
Pandey could not hit the right length to find consistent reverse swing, and Hanuma Vihari helped South regain control from 233 for 4 in an unbeaten 75-run stand with Rahul. With the light fading, only spinners were used for a few overs and play was called off with ten minutes to go.
Abhishek Purohit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo