Chennai: Central Zone took a firm grip on the Duleep Trophy semifinal against South Zone by stumps on the second day with an overall lead of 237 runs and nine wickets in hand.
Resuming at their overnight score of 292 for eight, Central Zone's first innings ended at 293 and they then dismissed South Zone for 183 before ending the day at 127 for one in their second knock with opener Naman Ojha going strong on 79 and Mohd Kaif on 41 here on Sunday.
It was a disappointing performance by South Zone, most of whose batsmen were guilty of injudicious shot selection on a pitch that initially afforded some movement, but otherwise was fairly slow and placid.
Off-spinner Jalaj Saxena who was brought into attack rather late, came away with three wickets in his nine overs to complement seamer Bhuvnesh Kumar who also picked up three.
The day though began on a promising note as South wrapped up the Central innings in just two overs, but made a mess of their reply revolved around a 55-run partnership between Amit Verma (42) and Stuart Binny (56) for the fifth wicket.
South Zone's response was marred by fall of early wickets. Opener Robin Uthappa did not make any impact as he was caught behind attempting an ambitious drive off Bhuvneshwar Kumar and then his partner Abhinav Mukund retired due to a painful wrist that he had suffered while fielding.
Worse still, skipper Subramaniam Badrinath and Dinesh Karthik departed in quick succession to leave South Zone in a precarious position at 47 for three.
Badrinath was slow to respond to the second run and was caught short at the non-striker's end while Karthik edged Pankaj Singh to wicket-keeper Naman Ojha in the very next over.
Thereafter, Verma and Binny steadied the ship with a very productive association that ended with the introduction of Jalaj Saxena who had the former caught by Piyush Chawla.
Both Verma and Binny applied themselves, something that other top order batsmen failed to do so as the slow paced pitch demanded patience and strokeplay was fraught with risk.
However, once the partnership was broken, the South Zone innings came apart as the tail-enders did not put up much resistance to concede a lead of 110 to Central.
In their second knock, Central opener Ojha, unperturbed by the early departure of Vineet Saxena, batted with a lot of freedom and assurance to hammer the South attack that wilted under the onslaught.
Kaif, the first innings centurion, proved an ideal foil with a watchful knock of 41 as he seemed content_cn to play second fiddle to Ojha.