New Delhi: East Zone are all but through to the final of the Duleep Trophy as Ashok Dinda's fiery spell ensured an all-important first-innings lead of 28 runs against North Zone on the penultimate day at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
The India-hopeful had career-best figures of eight for 123 to show for his efforts as North were all out for 287 in reply to East's first-innings score of 315. At stumps, East Zone were 120 for one with their lead swelling to 148.
East Zone have never won the title and will be in the first final of the tournament since the 2005-06 season.
Unless Delhi-lad Parvinder Awana can do something miraculous, the match as a contest is over, thanks to Dinda's lion-hearted effort on a not-so responsive pitch.
Having taken a couple of wickets on Sunday, Dinda's figures for the day were 19-2-61-6. Five of the six wickets on Monday were taken from the pavilion end as he bowled into the breeze. He also became the only bowler this season to complete 50 wickets. He now has 52 scalps and will get another match to improve upon his current tally.
He bowled fast and whenever he pitched the ball up, it looked as if something is going to happen.
Just like Sunday, things took a different turn the moment the second new ball was taken in the 81st over. North Zone were 210 for four after 80 overs, then lost six wickets with an addition of 77 runs in 25 overs, with Dinda taking five from the pavilion end.
Dinda's first victim in the morning was Paras Dogra (43) who couldn't check his drive and holed out to Nataraj Behera at mid-off.
Mayank Sidhana (46) and Rajat Bhatia (45) took the score 211 but Dinda struck with second new ball. Sidhana edged one off Dinda to Saha behind stumps. Punit Bist (8) offered the easiest of catches, which Anushtup Majumdar at gully gleefully accepted.
Bhatia and Amit Mishra (19) added 40 runs for the eighth wicket before the leg-spinner flashed one straight into the hands of Biplab Samantray at second slip. Bhatia got a delivery from Mohanty that kept low and the writing was on the wall.
"My partner Basant Mohanty doesn't have pace, so it was better for me to bowl into the breeze as I can hit the deck hard. I tried to bowl fast and move the ball. I am glad that I have got my career-best haul. But I believe my 10-wicket haul against Baroda and 12-wicket haul in Lahli were better efforts," Dinda said.
Did national selector Mohinder Amarnath's presence spur him to do well? "You can't think about whether the national selector is watching you or not. Jimmy sir has also watched me bowl at Vadodara where I got 10 wickets. My job is to keep performing and stay injury-free."
Brief Scores: East Zone 315 & 120/1 (M Vardhan 59 not out, A Majumdar 39 not out), West Zone 287 (Mandeep Singh 55, Ashok Dinda 8/123, Basant Mohanty 2/46).