East Zone 88 for 3 (Majumdar 46*, Sudhindra 2-25) trail Central Zone 133 (N Ojha 44, Dinda 4-29, Shami 4-73) by 45 runs
The season's top two run-getters, Robin Bist and Vineet Saxena, failed but the top two wicket-takers, Ashok Dinda and TP Sudhindra, did not. Dinda continued his outstanding form, taking his tally for the first-class season to 56 wickets, but it was little-known Shami Ahmed who surprised Central Zone with pace, zip and bounce as the hosts crumbled against relentless seam bowling. Sudhindra gave it back to East Zone with two strikes, but Anustup Majumdar ensured the visitors stayed on top.
Fifteen wickets had fallen on this ground on the first day of the Ranji Trophy quarter-final between Madhya Pradesh and Mumbai in January. Thirteen wickets went down today. The similarities went further. Mohnish Mishra and Naman Ojha had steadied the innings in both games. Against Mumbai, Mishra had gone, Ojha had followed and Madhya Pradesh had collapsed. Today, Mishra went, Ojha followed and Central collapsed.
The grass on the Holkar Stadium pitch is known to retain its bite for the first day, and East understandably chose to bowl. Central instantly got a sample of what was in store, Dinda hitting Ojha on the box off the fourth delivery of the game and forcing the batsman to go off the field.
Saxena and Mohammad Kaif survived several close moments in the first hour. Dinda kept bouncing and seaming it in from short of a good length, the wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha taking most deliveries with his gloves pointing skywards. After a glut of plays-and-misses, lbw appeals and inside edges, Kaif was adjudged leg before when he shouldered arms to an incoming Dinda delivery.
With Basant Mohanty's gentle medium-pace at one end, Dinda soon gave way to Shami, but there was to be no respite for Central. His run-up and delivery stride resembling Aqib Javed's, Shami bowled slightly fuller than Dinda had, but still found similar bounce and more seam movement. Saxena's block-or-leave policy lasted 48 deliveries and yielded three runs before Shami knocked his stumps out with a pitched-up delivery that came in.
Ojha had recovered enough from the blow to come back at Saxena's fall, and the score slowly started to move. Ojha has the useful ability to softly guide good deliveries past the slip cordon, and that method brought him some boundaries. Mishra, who hardly holds back when he drives, slammed Shami straight down the ground through the bowler's hands. When they ended the first session only two wickets down, Central seemed to have got through the most difficult part of the day.
After the break, Mohanty, whose run-up is as innocuous as his pace, got one to kick at Mishra, and Saha took the edge to end the partnership. In the next over, Shami got one to straighten and bounce at Ojha to give Saha another easy catch.
When Bist flicked a harmless Shami delivery straight to square leg, Central were left reeling at 91 for 5. Mohanty now mustered up enough zip to uproot the last specialist batsman Parvinder Singh's stumps.
Piyush Chawla tried to gather some quick runs through a mixture of slogs and a steer over the slip cordon but Dinda took no time to rip through the tail. Shami was unfortunate to be denied a deserved five-for with a couple of catches being dropped in the slips. There was nothing unfortunate about Central's capitulation, as the last eight wickets fell for 51 runs, 26 of those from Chawla's bat.
Central's bowlers came out determined to make as much use of the live grass as East's had. Sudhindra, with whom accuracy is guaranteed, also found steep bounce, and bowled Manish Vardhan in his second over.
Rajasthan's Ranji hero, Rituraj Singh, playing in place of the injured Pankaj Singh, produced a stunning first ball. He swung a full delivery sharply into Dheeraj Jadhav, who left the ball on angle, only to find it curving in to knock back off stump.
Sudhindra had Ishank Jaggi lbw off an inside edge to make it 48 for 3, but Majumdar, as short but built slightly heavier than the wafer-thin Saha, kept pinging the off-side boundary with confident drives. The captain Chawla bowled both his overs with a sweeper cover and the East Zone batsmen happily took singles to that fielder.
Shami's comment after stumps that he expected the pitch to help seam movement for the next two days should give Central some hope of making a comeback though.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo