New Delhi – Opener Lokesh Rahul's unbeaten 168, his highest first class score, helped South Zone gain a 32-run lead against Central Zone, who were bowled out for 276 on the second day of the Duleep Trophy final at the Ferozeshah Kotla here on Thursday.
After Central managed to add 39 more runs to their overnight total of 237/7, the 22-year-old Rahul and opener Robbin Uthappa (80) shared a 168-run partnership for the first wicket before medium pacer Pankaj Singh's three wickets pulled it back for Central. South ended the day with a score of 308/4 with Rahul and Hanuma Vihari (38 not out) still at the crease.
In reply to Central's 276, South openers started positively, giving respect to the pacers early but didn't lose out in punishing the weak deliveries. Rahul increased the flow of runs when Faiz Fazal, spinner Ali Murtaza and Piyush Chawla came in to bowl.
He warmed-up with two boundaries off Pankaj Singh's second over, hitting one to mid-off and the other - a pull to a rising delivery and these two shots showed signs of a batsman in form.
He stepped out of the crease to greet Murtaza with a four over mid-on and again collected another couple of shots to the fence in his next over after lunch, one to the square leg area, the other boundary - his 10th - to deep cover, helping him reach 50 from 57 balls.
Till that time Uthappa, who added just 23 runs till lunch when the scorecard read 65/0, turned on the heat in the post-lunch session. And it was Murtaza again who suffered the brunt of the Karnataka right-hander. Ishwar Pandey also suffered by bowling either too full or short.
Rahul, although was quiet after scoring the 50, latched on to some weak deliveries off Chawla, hitting the leg-spinner for two sixes - one over long-on and the other over deep mid-wicket.
Uthappa matched his teammate in milking Chawla for couple of sixes and looked set for consecutive hundreds. But his innings was cut short when a Jalaj Saxena ball kissed his pads and the 28-year-old returned to the pavilion after hitting 13 boundaries.
Later, a single towards long-on off Chawla helped Rahul score his fifth first-class ton after which Rajasthan medium pacer Pankaj Singh infused life in the Central camp with three scalps within three overs.
Returning for his third spell, the tall bowler dismissed Baba Aparajith (21) with an outswinger which landed in the hands of glovesman Naman Ojha. Two balls later, Dinesh Karthik perished when he misjudged the line of the ball to be given leg before wicket.
In Pankaj's next over, left-hander R. Prasanna (0) was caught behind, leaving the team in a spot of bother with the scorecard reading 233/4 in 53.5 overs.
Later, Vihari joined Rahul and the duo ensured that they take the lead.
Earlier in the morning, Arindam Ghosh failed to add any run to his overnight score of 32 as he offered a catch to Aparajith off Vinay Kumar's bowling.
Ali Murtaza (16), Pandey (15) did their best but Abhimanyu Mithun and Pragyan Ojha removed them while Pankaj was not out with an individual score of eight.
Central Zone 276 in 100 overs (Robin Bist 79, Arindam Ghosh 32; Baba Aparajith 2/26, Vinay Kumar 2/54, Pragyan Ojha 2/49)
South Zone 308/4 (Lokesh Rahul not out 168, Robbin Uthappa 80, Hanuma Vihari not out 38; Pankaj Singh 3/55, Jalaj Saxena 1/49)
by 32 runs at stumps on Day 2.