South Zone's grip over the Duleep Trophy final loosened somewhat as the Pathan brothers - Yusuf and Irfan - led West's challenge in a match that has swung one way and the other. The fall of Irfan's wicket late on the fourth day meant that South would fancy their chances of picking up the four wickets and sealing victory at some point on the final day.
When the penultimate day began West were 50 for no loss chasing an unlikely 536 for victory. Nuggety left-handed opener Chirag Pathak, whose style of play is similar to his Saurashtra statemate and Ranji stalwart Sitanshu Kotak, set the stage with an important century at the top of the order.
Rarely pleasing on the eye, batting with a bottom-hand dominated grip, Pathak was the constant in vital partnerships of 117 for the first wicket with Harshad Khadiwale and 107 with for the second wicket with skipper Wasim Jaffer. Pathak (130) was eventually dismissed by mediumpacer Alfred Absolem when an attempted drive to a ball outside the off resulted in a thick edge back onto the stumps.
South were made to work hard for their wickets, an no one bowler dominated. Instead, Dinesh Karthik had to constantly rotate the bowlers, giving some part-timers a go.
Jaffer (66) made an error of judgment, shouldering arms to a delivery from C Ganapathy that came back in just enough to win the lbw shout. One wicket brought another as Bhavin Thaker opened the face of the bat in an attempt to steer the ball to third man and feathered an edge to the keeper.
South's hopes of tying up the loose ends quickly were dashed by Irfan and Yusuf, whose fluent batting transferred the pressure back into the bowling side.
The left-and-right combination changed the complexion of play, scoring at a fast clip. They added 84 for the sixth wicket, pushing the score to 378 before Irfan fell. It was Absolem once more who broke through, slanting a ball back in to the left-hander, enticing an edge onto the stumps. Irfan's 42 had come off 47 balls and included as many as 8 fours.
The worry for South is that Yusuf (84 not out, 71 balls, 7 fours, 5 sixes) is still at the crease. His belligerent approach has meant that the 157 needed for victory on the final day could be achieved in a tearing hurry.
Free entry for fans
Hyderabad's fans were denied entry on the first two days of the Duleep final as the home association felt large numbers could pose a security threat. In January crowds had disrupted a Twenty20 match and the Hyderabad Cricket Association did not want to take any chances.
However, they have had a change of heart, and fans are now being allowed to watch the match, free of charge, for the remainder of the match.