Bhuvneshwar Kumar single-handedly took Central Zone to the Duleep Trophy final with a cracking century against North Zone in the semi-final of the Duleep Trophy in Hyderabad, on Wednesday.
Central Zone made it to the final for the second successive year as they beat North Zone by virtue of their 18-run first innings lead.
Central Zone scored 469 in reply to North's 451 riding on an astonishing 127-run 10th wicket partnership between Bhuvneshwar who hit a career-best 128 and Rituraj Singh, who chipped in with 39. They were reeling at 117 for five at one stage before Mohammad Kaif (63) and Mahesh Rawat (71) led the revival with a 98-run sixth-wicket partnership.
Riding on Bhuvneshwar's superb innings, the last three wickets put on 218 runs to script the remarkable turnaround for Central Zone.
Bhuvneshwar scored two runs off Ishant Sharma to give his team the all-important first innings lead on the final day of the four-day match. In their second innings, North Zone made 187 for four in 52 overs, setting Central an improbable target of 170 runs, who preferred to bat out the overs to score 39 for one in 13 overs.
Batting at No. 8, Bhuvneshwar hit 13 fours and three sixes in his 253-ball knock.
"It was one of the best innings of my first-class career. I am happy that I have been able to win it for my team," Bhuvneshwar said.
The young UP all-rounder said he and Rituraj felt the pressure with one just wicket in hand and ten runs needed to get the vital first-innings lead.
"If you talk about pressure, it was there today as we needed only 10 runs. Yesterday, we batted freely," Bhuvneshwar replied.
However, the hero of Central's victory didn't forget to mention that it was a flat track which made batting look very easy.
"It was a very flat track to bat on," he stated.
Central will take on East Zone in the final in Chennai from October 21 after they made it to the title clash ahead of South Zone on basis of their first-innings lead..
"Obviously, this is a match that we would like to win having lost during the last edition," said the man who plays for Pune Warriors in the IPL and likes to be identified as an all-rounder.
North Zone 1st innings: 451 all out in 119.2 overs (Yuvraj Singh 208, S Dhawan 121, Praveen Kumar 4-92, M Kartik 4-120)
Central Zone 1st innings: (overnight score 442-9)
T Srivastava run out 23
V Saxena c Yuvraj Singh 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 b R Dhawan 71
B Kumar c Dewan b R Dhawan 128
P Kumar c Dewan b Mishra 27
M Kartik c Yuvraj Singh b Mishra 22
R Singh not out 39
Extras (b: 9, lb: 4, wd: 2, nb: 25) 40
Total (469 all out in 154.1 overs)
Fall of wickets: 1-64, 2-71, 3-80, 4-84, 5-117, 6-219, 7-251, 8-293, 9-342, 10-469.
Bowling: Ishant Sharma 26-7-48-0, P Awana 27-3-95-2, R Dhawan 30.1-8-66-3, R Sharma 26-4-75-0, A Mishra 41-7-162-4, Yuvraj Singh 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 Saxena 0
P Dogra c Srivastava b Saxena 24
R Dhawan not out 3
Extras (lb: 4, wd:1) 5
Total (187 for 4 wickets declared in 52 overs)
Fall of wickets: 75-1, 129-2, 130-3, 171-4.
Bowling: P Kumar 7-1-18-0, B Kumar 13-2-34-1, R Singh 13-2-68-0, J Saxena 15-0-52-2, M Kartik 4-1-11-1.
Central Zone 2nd innings: (Target: 170)
T Srivastava not out 17
V Saxena c Dewan b Mishra 0
R Bist not out 21
Extras (nb:1) 1
Total (39 for 1 wicket in 13 overs)
Fall of wickets: 1-6.
Bowling: Mandeep Singh 7-1-16-0, A Mishra 6-0-23-1.
Result: Match tied.
Central Zone advance to the final on basis of first innings lead