Central Zone pacemen triggered a stunning batting collapse in East Zone's second innings as they overcame a first innings deficit to complete a nine-wicket victory on the final day and entered the semi-finals of the Duleep Trophy.
With a slender lead and resuming on their overnight 24 for one, few would have bet on the tables being turned so decisively as it happened at the Barabati stadium on Saturday.
Central will now face South Zone in the semi-finals in Hyderabad from Jan. 26.
East, 61 runs ahead with nine wickets in hand, were favoured to go through. However, the pace trio of RP Singh, Pankaj Singh and Saurashtra's Umesh Yadav ripped through the batting to dismiss East for less than 100 runs before lunch, leaving themselves an easy target. Openers Aakash Chopra and Mohnish Mishra then hit fifties in a 93-run partnership as Central eased to victory before the tea interval.
Pankaj Singh, on a high after playing a crucial role in Rajasthan's unlikely Ranji Trophy triumph, triggered the initial collapse by taking three quick wickets, which left East reeling at 44 for four. He finished with seven wickets in the match.
East, a batsman short due to Saurabh Tiwary's injury, then crumbled and Central knocked off the required 134 runs without much fuss before the tea interval.
Mohd. Kaif scored a patient century on the third day to keep Central in the hunt and take them very close to East's first innings total. West will meet North in the second semifinal from Jan. 26.
Brief scores: East 427 & 96 (RP Singh 3-42, P. Singh 3-34, U. Yadav 3-17); Central 390 & 135-1 (A. Chopra 59 n.o., M Mishra 50).