West Zone's chances of retaining the Duleep trophy crown were all but over in 28 minutes and under seven overs on the third day, when Pinal Shah went for an extravagant drive and threw his wicket away on Friday.
What followed thereafter was an exhibition of one man's talent and the tail's
effort to survive at any cost. Ravindra Jadeja (170 not out) treated the handful of spectators at the Moti Baug ground here to his vast repertoire of strokes to add 200 runs after Shah's departure had left the team reeling at 192 for 6.
Local boy Murtuja Vahora (43) proved the perfect foil, the duo adding 131 runs for the ninth wicket from just 144 balls, but the second new ball ended his resistance and Jadeja was stranded at the other end just a ball later.
With a lead of 68 runs in the first innings, North just had to shut out any chances of a West fight back to take their place in the final at Visakhapatnam and by stumps had extended their lead to 259 with a second innings score of 191 for 3 in 39 overs.
Though North would take the honours, Jadeja deserved the standing ovation he got from his teammates and the opposition after his 315-minute knock that graduated from caution at the start to utter disdain towards the bowlers after it became clear he was fighting a losing battle.
The 22-year-old began by taking North skipper Amit Mishra to the cleaners soon after Bhargav Bhatt departed with the team score reading 261 for eight. Jadeja stepped out a couple of times to break the leg-spinner's rhythm and then sent him over the long on fence twice.
The all-rounder kept the strike with him for the initial five overs with such ease that Mishra's efforts to stop last ball singles only left him frustrated.
Even the introduction of pacers Sumit Narwal and Joginder Sharma failed to slow down the southpaw, who was not afraid to pull and hook despite two fielders posted on the fence square of the wicket.
Murtuja too joined the party by hitting Narwal over the mid-off fence. But Mishra's decision to take the new ball proved to be the decisive factor as Narwal had the last laugh.
South close in on win
Hyderabad: Abhinav Mukund and Amit Verma smashed a century each to help South Zone rake up a massive score of 503/7 before declaring their innings against a hapless Central Zone.
Resuming the day on 132/2, both Mukund and Verma stepped up the pressure from the word go. Muralidharen Gautam and Vinay Kumar contributed as well setting their opponents a target of a humungous 770.
In reply, Central Zone lost two wickets, including Hrishikesh Kanitkar's, and ended the day's play 697 runs behind.
Brief Scores: South Zone 443 and 504 for 7 decl (Mukund 164, Verma 148; Yadav 2/63) vs Central Zone: 178 and 73 for 2 in 15 overs.