Two balls in the post-lunch session. That is precisely what East Zone needed to wrap a convincing 68-run victory over South Zone in the Duleep Trophy Group A match at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
The second straight defeat put South out of this season's competition, and made next week's North versus East clash at Rajkot a virtual semi-final.
It was Assamese off-break bowler Palash Jyoti Das's turn to put the last two nails in the South Zone coffin. Given the ball by skipper Shiv Sunder Das for the last over before lunch, the 23-year-old struck with his second delivery, having Pragyan Ojha (6) caught by Ranadeb Bose to reduce South to 200/9. Just as the wicket fell lunch was taken.
NSC Aiyappa (14) smashed the first ball after lunch to the fence and the second straight into the hands of Debashis Mohanty. It was all over for South, who were dismissed for 204, the same total they posted in the first innings. A disappointing end, considering they had come back so well the previous day.
Resuming at their overnight score of 133/3, South captain S Badrinath (57) and wicketkeeper LN Prasda Reddy (39) added 30 more runs quite easily before the former slashed his bat at an away going delivery from Bose and his East counterpart gratefully accepted the gift at first slip.
R Ashwin (0) fell two overs later, caught behind off Bose again, when there was no further addition to the score (143/5) and the slide begun.
The injured Asnodkar hung around for 28 balls, scoring 15, before the Bose-Das combine eased out his pain on the field. Reddy's resilience finally gave way when he nicked an SS Paul delivery to 'keeper Das.
Tushar Saha, who had kept East in the game with two late strikes on Tuesday, came back to dismiss R Vinay Kumar (1), skipper Das taking his third catch of the innings.
Badrinath had admitted the day before that a lot would depend on how long he batted. To put it bluntly, he got out playing a bad shot. There was a tinge of regret in the captain's voice even as he spoke after the match.
"I told you that the first session was always going to be crucial," said Badrinath. "The total was within reach, so it was disappointing." And as a captain he did accept responsibility.
"My wicket was the turning point. It was a bad shot," he said. "We were already one batsman down with Swapnil having a groin injury (and could hardly stretch) and it is in the batting that we lost the game." East skipper Das, on the other hand, was palpably happy with his team's effort.
"We played as a unit and the bowlers did a great job," he said.
East Zone (1st innings): 313
South Zone (1st innings): 204
East Zone (2nd innings): 163
South Zone (2nd innings): overnight 113/3
M Vijay c H Das b Mohanty 0
DB Ravi Teja lbw b Saha 54
S Badrinath c SS Das b Bose 57
A Yadav lbw b Saha 12
LNP Reddy c H Das b Paul 39
R Ashwin c H Das b Bose 0
S Asnodkar c SS Das b Bose 15
R Vinay Kumar c SS Das b Saha 1
NSC Aiyappa c Mohanty b PJ Das 14
P Ojha c Bose b PJ Das 6
P Vijay Kumar not out 0
Extras: (lb 5, nb 1) 6
Total: (all out in 61.4 overs) 204
Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-85, 3-113, 4-143, 5-143, 6-171 (Asnodkar, 50.6 ov), 7-184 (Reddy, 56.5 ov), 8-184 (Vinay Kumar, 57.2 ov), 9-200 (Ojha, 61.2 ov), 10-204 (Aiyappa, 61.4 ov)
Bowling: D Mohanty 14-3-36-1, R Bose 14-2-67-3, SS Paul 14-3-34-1, T Saha 17-4-56-3, N Behera 2-0-2-0, PJ Das 0.4-0-4-2