Venugopala Rao posted a stroke-filled century that guided Rest of India to an impregnable position against Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai in the Irani Cup cricket tie at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Friday.
Andhra batsman Rao proved to be a smiling assassin as his stylish batting took the Mumbai bowling by the scruff of its neck and helped Rest reach 363 for nine, a massive lead of 479, at close on the third day.
Rao perished while trying to impose himself on the rival bowlers, but not before his 113 from 205 balls filled with 14 fours and a six had taken the match away from Mumbai.
Mumbai were once again guilty of leaving the job unfinished as Rest recovered from a precarious 125 for five through a century partnership between Rao and Parthiv Patel.
Patel contributed a vital 68 and during his three hour and 39 minute stay at the crease, adding 162 runs for the sixth wicket with Rao.
Zaheer Khan then rubbed salt in Mumbai's wounds, plundering 46 off 41 balls with three fours and four sixes.
With two full day's play remaining, a result is assured.
And although Mumbai's chances cannot be ruled out with the Mohali track still good enough for strokeplay, their first innings capitulation for 198 does not inspire much hopes.
Mumbai, who had conceded a 116-run first innings lead on Thursday, fought their way back into the match with captain Sairaj Bahutule striking twice in the morning session.
Resuming at 82 for two, Rest lost their skipper Dinesh Mongia (12) in the tenth over of the day when he fended at an outside the off delivery from Avishkar Salvi to wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant.
Bahutule then had the other overnight batsman, opener Aakash Chopra, caught and bowled before luring Joginder Sharma into a lofted drive and Ramesh Powar at long off completed the rest.
With only an hour into the third day's play, it looked as if Rest had blown up their chances. But Rao and Patel proved to be a thorn in their skin.
It was difficult to say whether Rao's batting reminded Mohammad Azharuddin or V V S Laxman. But he had that typical lazy elegance, whichwas amplified when he planted his front foot and drove Bahutule's leg spin effortlessly through the cover.
Aftera circumspective start when he was repeatedly beaten outside the off by Salvi, Rao opened up with an uppish cut between gully and point off the same bowler. He quickly settled into a rhythm and was soon taking on off-spinner Powar.
Patel,at the other end, was his usual cocksure in driving and cutting the seamers. From 161 for five at lunch, Rest moved to 250 for no further loss as runs kept flowing.
Raoreached his century with a cut four off Robin Morris and succumbed to his instincts when a mistimed drive off Powar found Salvi at long on.
Patelin the meantime fell to the leg side trap as his hook off Salvi was easily taken by Vinayak Mane at backward square leg.
When Murali Karthik was out for 16,Mumbai were hoping to run through the tail as fast as possible but Zaheer had other plans.
The India player flexed his muscles to such effect that Bahutule's bowling figures were tarnished beyond recognition and the leg spinner finished with three for 92.
Aftera soaring six to long on off Powar, Zaheer turned his attention to the leg spinner and tonked him thrice over midwicket.
Rest of India 1st innings: 314
Mumbai 1st innings: 198
Rest of India 2nd innings:
A Chopra c and b Bahutule 41
G Gambhir lbw b Powar 30
S Sriram c and b Powar 22
D Mongia c Samant b Salvi 12
Y Venugopala Rao c Salvi b Powar 113
J Sharma c Powar b Bahutule 0
P Patel c Mane b Salvi 68
M Karthik c and b Bahutule16
Zaheer Khan not out 46
Y Golwalkar c sub b Morris0
S S Paul not out 0
Extras (lb-4, nb-11) 15
Total (for 9 wkts in 113 overs) 363
Fall of wickets: 1-51, 2-82, 3-103, 4-126, 5-126, 6-288, 7-311, 8-331, 9-359.
Bowling: A Salvi 28-5-82-3, R Morris 18-1-80-1, S Bahutule 36-10-92-3, R Powar 26-5-92-3, B Thakkar 4-0-11-0, V Mane 1-0-2-0.