Rahul ton leads South Zone's 301 chase
South Zone 379 and 184 for 1 (Rahul 121*) need another 117 runs to beat Central Zone 276 and 403 (Bist 112*, Fazal 72, Saxena 71, Gopal 4-60)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Midway through the day, Robin Bist's century and his 104-run partnership with Ali Murtaza for the eighth wicket had boosted the lead to 300, and seemingly put Central Zone in control of the Duleep Trophy final. By stumps, it was South Zone who were in control of the game as Karnataka opener KL Rahul hit his second century in the match, reaching triple digits at almost a run-a-ball. South ended 117 runs away from the title, with nine wickets - including Rahul's - still in hand.
Rahul signalled his intentions with three crisply driven fours off Ishwar Pandey in the second over of the chase. The boundaries flowed right through the innings, including sixes over midwicket to reach both his half-century and his century. His belligerence meant that even though his opening partner, Robin Uthappa, played cautiously, the run-rate hovered around four an over.
Uthappa was lucky to be reprieved when he looked plumb lbw early in his innings against Pankaj Singh, and was finally dismissed for 30 in the 25th over. That only prompted a further flurry of boundaries from Rahul, who first lofted offspinner Jalaj Saxena over midwicket for six, before twice reverse-sweeping him for four in the same over. With B Aparajith giving support, the stand for the second wicket grew to an unbroken 88, with Rahul 121* at stumps.
Rahul's performance, watched by national selectors Vikram Rathour and Saba Karim, took some of the shine off what had been an outstanding effort earlier in the day from Bist. South's spinners were getting the ball to fizz in the morning, and when Arindam Ghosh and Piyush Chawla were dismissed in successive overs to leave Central at 260 for 7, a quick end to the innings loomed.
Instead, Bist and Murtaza counterattacked to put the pressure back on South. As the partnership flourished, with Bist reeling off plenty of big straight hits, South began to flag, and the score ballooned towards 400. Bist was left stranded on 112 and walked off to the applause of his team-mates. The bowling couldn't follow up on his efforts though, and Rahul cashed in.
After a hugely successful season with Karnataka in 2013-14, Rahul was keen to bag more titles. "I feel happy to score back-to-back hundreds, especially on a big stage like this, but my mind is on the target. I want to win this tournament, last season we won three, I want this one in the bag as well," Rahul said after the day's play. "I want to stay not out, and see my team through."