Bhuvneshwar Kumar could not have timed his maiden first-class century better as his gutsy innings (120 batting, 263 min, 225 balls, 12x4, 3x6) helped Central Zone stay in the race for the vital first innings lead against North Zone on the third day of the Duleep Trophy semifinal here on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old cricketer from Kanpur showed great fighting spirit during his unbeaten ton. He was instrumental in taking the Central team’s score from 342 for nine (in reply to North’s 451), to a being very close to taking the lead.

Bhuvneshwar was on 45 when the ninth wicket fell. Along with 21-year-old Rituraj Singh of Jaipur (21 batting, 38 balls, 3x4, 1x6) he put on an unbroken 100 runs for the last wicket.

The stand could be a reflection of the lack of bite — both in the pitch and also in the bowling attack which included India stars Ishant Sharma, leg-spin duo of Amit Mishra and Rahul Sharma.

Earlier, captain Mohd Kaif (63, 178 balls, 7x4) and Mahesh Rawat (71, 131 balls, 9x4) demonstrated — during their 102-run stand for the sixth wicket — that there was nothing in the docile pitch which offered assistance to any bowler.

It was a stand-out effort by Bhuvneshwar, who showed remarkable temperament and cricketing discipline during his splendid knock. The way he repeatedly stepped down to cart Amit Mishra (who, at one stage, threatened to wrap up the Central innings with a four-wicket haul), was the highlight of his brave knock. The experienced spinner looked clueless even as Central’s star performer of the day gained in stature.

The well spread out field — all but one fielder on the boundary line — was in a way a surrender by North when the last wicket pair was at the crease. None of the North zone bowlers could make any impression after Central resumed the final session at 326 for eight.

North was taken aback by the magnificent fight back of the last wicket pair, and its defensive strategy was baffling as it also meant conceding too many easy runs.

The scores: North Zone (first innings): 451.

Central Zone (first innings): T. Srivastava run out 23, V. Saxena c Yuvraj b Mishra 33, M. Kaif b Mishra 63, R. Bist lbw b Awana 4, A. Menaria c S. Dhawan b Awana 4, J. Saxena lbw b R. Dhawan 15, M. Rawat c (sub) Sidhana b R. Dhawan 71, B. Kumar (batting) 120, P. Kumar c Dewan b Mishra 27, M. Karthik c Yuvraj b Mishra 22, R. R. Singh (batting) 21, Extras (b-9, lb-4, w-1, nb-25) 39; Total (for nine wickets in 145 overs) 442.

Fall of wickets: 1-64, 2-71, 3-80, 4-84, 5-117, 6-219, 7-251, 8-293, 9-342.

North Zone bowling: Ishant 23-5-46-0, Awana 23-2-81-2, R. Dhawan 30-8-66-2, Rahul 26-4-75-0, Mishra 39-7-151-4, Yuvraj 4-1-10-0.

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