If the first two days of the Duleep Trophy Group A tie at the Wankhede stadium belonged to East Zone, then the third was certainly dominated by South Zone.
After dismissing East for a meager 163 in their second essay -- thereby needing 273 for an outright victory -- South began their chase quite well and finished the day at 113 for three, needing a further 160 runs to win, with seven second innings wickets in hand.
Having said that, South's dominance was somewhat marred by the loss of two quick wickets, those of D B Ravi Teja (54) and Arjun Yadav (12), to seemingly innocuous deliveries. Those dismissals, and an injury to opener Swapnil Asnodkar, which will certainly hamper his batting when he comes down the order if required, ensured the match is evenly poised going into the final day.
At stumps on Tuesday, captain S Badrinath (42) was still unbeaten, along with stumper LN Prasad Reddy (yet to score). To put it straight, on him rests the hopes of South Zone.
"We are still in the game, but it all depends on our captain tomorrow," said opener Ravi Teja on the sidelines, when asked about South Zone's prospects on the final day.
His sentiments were echoed by his teammates, something his captain definitely understands.
"The morning session will be crucial. If we get through the first hour, the game will be ours," said Badrinath, before adding, "I'll try and hang around till lunch." He, however, couldn't hide his disappointment at the two late wickets.
"Our bowlers brought us back in the game but we are getting out easily," he said. "If you look at the two dismissals -- Ravi Teja and Yadav -- they weren't great balls. We need to take advantage of the fact that they don't have a good spinner."
It is, however, quite ironical that it's been a left-arm spinner who has proved to be their undoing in both the innings. Tripura's Tushar Saha, who had snapped four wickets in the first, again put the brakes on South Zone's chugging locomotive by trapping both Ravi Teja and Yadav plumb in front just as they looked to be running away with the game.
Ravi Teja, in particular, put behind a disappointing first innings performance to hit a 59-ball 52, a knock that comprised eight hits to the fence and a huge one over it. It was his 81-run second-wicket partnership with his captain -- after Debashis Mohanty had makeshift opener Murali Vijay (0) caught behind in just the fourth ball of the innings -- that put South Zone in the driver's sit.
Earlier, resuming at the overnight score of five without loss, East Zone were dismissed for 163 fourteen minutes before tea.
On Monday, East skipper S S Das had admitted that his team had to bat well till lunch before setting any target. But that is precisely something they didn't do. Das himself failed to build on his resilient 82 in the first innings, cleaned up by Aiyappa for only 10 as East went into lunch 89/6, definitely not something the skipper would have liked.
Anustup Majumdar scored a patient 44 but it was wicketkeeper Haladhar Das who again helped East Zone, following up his magnificent 93 with an unbeaten 52. It was his 47-run stand with Saha (29) for the seventh wicket that ensured the East bowlers at least had a decent target to defend.
The South bowlers shared the wickets, with R Ashwin (3/33) being the pick of the lot. However, on Wednesday what will matter eventually is how well the South Zone batsmen play against East's experienced pace attack, more importantly, the inexperienced, innocuous, but so-far highly productive bowling of Saha.
East Zone (1st innings): 313
South Zone (1st innings): 204
East Zone (2nd innings) overnight 5/0):
SS Das b Aiyappa 10
Arindam Das c sub (RV Gomez) b Vijay Kumar 5
A Majumdar b Ashwin 44
N Behera c Badrinath b Ojha 8
M Vardhan c Vinay Kumar b Ojha 4
PJ Das c Ravi Teja b Ashwin 5
H Das not out 52 140
T Saha c Vijay b Aiyappa 28
D Mohanty c Reddy b Vijay Kumar 3
R Bose lbw b Ashwin 0
SS Paul b Vinay Kumar 0
Extras: (lb 2, nb 2) 4
Total: (all out in 64.5 overs) 163
Fall of wickets:1-18, 2-18, 3-37, 4-55, 5-78, 6-79, 7-126, 8-141, 9-158, 10-163
Bowling: R Vinay Kumar 10.5-5-26-1, NSC Aiyappa 11-3-20-2, P Vijay Kumar 11-4-28-2, P Ojha 19-5-54-2, R Ashwin 13-3-33-3
South Zone (2nd innings): target: 273)
M Vijay c H Das b Mohanty 0
DB Ravi Teja lbw b Saha 54
S Badrinath not out 42
A Yadav lbw b Saha 12
LNP Reddy not out 0
Extras: (lb 4, nb 1) 5
Total: (for 3 wickets in 29 overs) 113
Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-85, 3-113.
Bowling: DS Mohanty 9-3-21-1, R Bose 6-0-38-0, SS Paul 6-0-21-0, T Saha 6-1-27-2, N Behera 2-0-2-0.