There were some tense and exciting moments in the first half-hour of the final day’s morning session, but the tenacity of centurion Bhuvneshwar Kumar (128) and Ritu Raj Singh (39 not out) saw Central Zone grab the first innings lead against North Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal here on Wednesday.

The last-wicket stand between Bhuvneshwar and Ritu Raj ultimately amounted to 127 runs, but once the lead was won, the rest of the proceedings was a mere formality, with the focus shifting to individuals trying to impress the two national selectors — Rajinder Singh Hans and Vikram Rathour — who were present right through the match.

The intent in the North camp was very obvious in the morning as it trooped on to the field to try and deny Central the vital 10 runs.

There were animated discussions at the end of each over, with double centurion Yuvraj Singh virtually leading the side. Fast bowlers Ishant Sharma and Parvinder Awana were entrusted with the job of trying to get the last wicket. There were constant changes to the field too.

But all went in vain as Ritu Raj (65 balls, 7x4, 1x6) was assured and confident at the crease, and Bhuvneshwar did not hesitate to give him the strike either.

Ritu Raj cut and then flicked Awana to score two crucial boundaries over two overs, easing the pressure on Central, even as North was pushed to desperation.

When Bhuvneshwar guided Ishant to point for a brace in the sixth over of the morning, the Central players started their celebrations.

When North batted, Yuvraj Singh did not bat the second time. He was sporting enough to walk across and congratulate the Central players, especially Bhuvneshwar and Ritu Raj, for their splendid game-changing performance.

Central has ensured a repeat final of the last edition when it earned the right to take on defending champions East Zone in the final to be played in Chennai.

The scores:

North Zone — 1st innings: 451.

Central Zone — 1st 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 c Dewan b R. Dhawan 128, Praveen Kumar c Dewan b Mishra 27, M. Kartik c Yuvraj b Mishra 22, R.R. Singh (not out) 39, Extras (b-9, lb-4, w-2, nb-25) 40; Total (in 154.1 overs) 469.

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 26-7-48-0, Awana 27-3-95-2, Rishi Dhawan 30.1-8-66-3, Rahul 26-4-75-0, Mishra 41-7-162-4, Yuvraj 4-1-10-0.

North Zone — 2nd innings: R. Dewan b B. Kumar 80, S. Dhawan lbw b Kartik 37, N. Saini (not out) 38, Mandeep Singh b Jalaj 0, P. Dogra c Srivastava b Jalaj 24, R. Dhawan (not out) 3, Extras (lb-4, w-1) 5; Total (for four wickets declared in 52 overs) 187.

Fall of wickets: 1-75, 2-129, 3-130, 4-171.

Central Zone bowling: Praveen 7-1-18-0, Bhuvneshwar 13-2-34-1, Ritu Raj 13-2-68-0, Jalaj 15-0-52-2, Kartik 4-1-11-1.

Central Zone — 2nd innings: T. Srivastava (not out) 17, V. Saxena c Dewan b Mishra 0, R. Bist (not out) 21, Extras (nb-1) 1; Total (for one wicket in 13 overs) 39.

Fall of wickets: 1-6.

North Zone bowling: Mandeep 7-1-16-0, Amit Mishra 6-0-23-1.

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