East Zone tuck in to their run-chase
Close Day 4 East Zone 322 and 213 for 3 (Dhoni 60, Powar 51*) need 196 more runs to beat North Zone 330 and 400 (Chatterjee 4-63)
Four dropped catches by the North Zone fielders, including two by Yuvraj Singh, could prove critical as East Zone gave themselves a fighting chance of an historic triumph at Mohali. Chasing 409 for their maiden Duleep Trophy crown, East Zone were comfortably placed by the close on 213 for 3, with Kiran Powar unbeaten on 51.
North Zone will only have themselves to blame if East Zone pull off their run-chase. After gaining a tremendous advantage yesterday, in running up a lead of 300, North lost their way in the first session as Utpal Chatterjee pegged them back with four quick wickets. Mithun Manhas played back to one that hurried on, then Ajay Ratra was rather dubiously given out caught at short leg (316 for 5). After bowling Dinesh Mongia round his legs for 48, Chatterjee then lured Sarandeep Singh into a return catch (341 for 7), which put him just one away from a career tally of 500 first-class wickets. But the landmark proved elusive - now he'll have to wait until the start of next season to get there. The tail swished and swatted, and North Zone finally finished on a round 400 - not bad, but much lower than might have been expected yesterday when Yuvraj was creaming the ball around.
MS Dhoni gave East Zone the initial momentum with some clean hitting. He pierced the covers with some blazing drives, and wasn't prepared to let the short ones go unharmed. The crowd came to life when he unleashed a ferocious pull for six when Ashish Nehra banged one short. There were a few streaky edges, one of which brought him his half-century, but it was the ideal start his team needed. After hitting eight fours and a six, he tried another ambitious pull and the resultant top-edge was easily pouched by Yuvraj at first slip (77 for 1). Dhoni's 60 took him only 47 balls.
Arindam Das, the other opener, essayed a few silky cover-drives amid an otherwise solid defensive technique. He was unlucky to be adjudged lbw to Sarandeep for 35, as the ball appeared to be missing leg stump (116 for 2). Rohan Gavaskar lived perennially on the edge and he teased the slip fielders no end. Yuvraj grassed two regulation slip chances, and there were a number of times that the ball flew agonisingly wide of the cordon. Gavaskar finally fell for 49 - edging, inevitably - as North Zone finally got the break that they were desperately seeking (200 for 3).
Powar continued where he left off in the first innings, and efficiently mixed caution with some brutal sweeps. He didn't allow Sarandeep to settle into a rhythm, and swept a few balls from wide of off stump. Powar also had a reprieve, when a diving Ratra failed to collect one down the leg side, and there were a few close shouts as he padded up without offering a stroke. But he looked in ominous touch at the end of the day, and was confident of leading his side to victory: "The wicket is playing well, so let's keep our fingers crossed. There is no way I am going to give it away after doing all the hard work, like in the first innings. Tomorrow is a huge day."
SS Das was suffering from a torn calf muscle and won't bat tomorrow unless it's absolutely necessary. Considering the way the pendulum has swung to and fro so far in this match, he'll probably have to pad up and limp out for a nailbiting finish.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo in India.