North Zone 457 (Gambhir 167, Mandeep 74, Saini 56, Kuldeep 3-94) trail Central Zone 538 (Ojha 217, Saxena 110, Menaria 62) by 81 runs

Gautam Gambhir hit his highest first-class score in five years but that wasn't enough to prevent Central Zone from taking the crucial first-innings lead on the third day in Mohali. It was his sixth first-class century since November 2009, and his first of the year.

Yuvraj Singh hasn't made a first-class half-century in nearly two years, and that wait was extended as he fell for 47 to become teenage chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav's first wicket in the format.

Faced with Central's imposing first-innings total of 538, North Zone began well, with Gambhir and Mandeep Singh (74) adding 160 for the fourth wicket to take the score to 330 for 3. Ishwar Pandey produced the breakthrough, dismissing Gambhir, who fell for a five-and-a-half-hour 167. After that, North couldn't put together any substantial partnership. Mandeep was caught behind off Pankaj Singh a few overs later, and though Nitin Saini hit a brisk half-century, and Parvez Rasool scored 44 in under an hour, North ended well short.

Central's spin trio of Kuldeep, Piyush Chawla and Karn Sharma mopped up the lower order to ensure the lead. With only a day remaining and only the first innings of both teams completed, there is little chance of an outright result, which means Central are almost certain of progressing to the final against South Zone.