New Delhi, Oct 31: After two days of shoddy performance, Central Zone finally lifted their game today to grab a crucial lead and ensure that the Duleep Trophy final against South Zone heads for an exciting finish with a couple of days still left.
After Ali Murtaza and Piyush Chawla rattled the lower middle-order of South getting them all out for 379, Central openers Faiz Fazal (72) and Jalaj Saxena (71) created a window of opportunity with a 128-run opening stand. At stumps, Central were 214 for four taking a lead of 111 runs with six wickets in hand.
With cracks appearing on the 22 yard strip and the odd ball turning, Central will fancy their chances if they get a lead of 225-240 on this track. On a fifth day Kotla track, survival might be difficult and South batsmen will have to go for the jugular.
At stumps, Robin Bist (26 batting) was in the company of Mahesh Rawat (11 batting). But credit should be given to both Fazal and Jalaj for their positive intent after bowlers kept the first innings lead down to 103 runs. While Jalaj's innings was a plucky one that had some good drives along with 'lemon cuts', Fazal pulled pretty well before the same shot brought about his downfall.
Fazal's 72 had 11 boundaries in 139 balls while Jalaj had 14 fours in 119 balls as they kept a steady run-rate. The 128 runs for the opening stand came in 37.5 overs before Jalaj padded an arm ball from Pragyan Ojha to be adjudged LBW.
Fazal was looking to make amends for getting out on 49 in the first innings and he pulled anything short on offer. However, South skipper Ranganath Vinay Kumar kept a single fielder at deep square leg and Fazal was forced into the trap.