In a sustained fightback, Bhuvneshwar Kumar
carried Central Zone to within 10 runs of making the Duleep Trophy final with his maiden first-class hundred that was largely made in the company of the tail in Hyderabad.
Bhuvneshwar, the 21-year old Uttar Pradesh allrounder, came in at No. 8 with Central Zone trailing North Zone by 232. Thirty-two runs later, he lost his partner, wicketkeeper Mahesh Rawat, who had made 71, and had put on 102 for the sixth wicket with captain Mohammad Kaif (63).
At that stage, North Zone were three wickets away from a place in the final, with a comfortable lead of 200. But Bhuvneshwar found support from all the following batsmen - Praveen Kumar, Murali Kartik and Rituraj Singh. He added 42 and 49 for the eighth and ninth wickets with Praveen (27) and Kartik (22).
Central Zone were still trailing by 109, though, when legspinner Amit Mishra had Kartik caught by Yuvraj Singh to claim his fourth wicket. But North were to end the day in an ultimately futile search for the last wicket, as Bhuvneshwar and Rituraj thwarted them for more than 100 minutes in a partnership that is now worth an even 100 in just 21.5 overs.
In an innings that had now lasted more than four hours, Bhuvneshwar faced 225 deliveries, and struck 12 fours and three sixes. He batted smartly with the tail, even refusing three singles when he was on 99 to shield the last man Rituraj. North Zone did not help their cause by setting extremely defensive fields for Bhuvneshwar. During the closing moments of the day's play, they had as many as nine men in the deep, allowing Bhuvneshwar to effortlessly farm the strike. Rituraj played his role by denying North Zone off the 38 deliveries he faced.
North Zone were also generous with the extras, bowling 25 no-balls. Fifteen of those came from Mishra alone, who should have been called many more times had the umpire seen that he was cutting the return crease repeatedly with his back foot.
South Zone hit back after conceding a small first-innings lead in Visakhapatnam as they picked up six East Zone wickets in the second innings to increase the possibility of the game having an outright result on the fourth and final day tomorrow.
Natraj Behera, the East Zone captain, was the only batsman to resist South Zone. Behera made 60 before becoming the first of allrounder Stuart Binny's two victims. Binny stunned East Zone four deliveries after dismissing Behera when he had the first-innings centurion Saurabh Tiwary caught for a duck. East Zone were reduced to 98 for 4 from 98 for 2. They lost two more wickets by stumps, leaving Biplab Samantray as the last recognized batsman to add to an overall lead of 152.
Earlier, South Zone added 110 to their overnight score of 134 for 5 with captain Vinay Kumar making 61 at No. 8 and putting on 65 for the seventh wicket with Amit Verma (49).