Seamer Munaf Patel ripped apart Railways' batting line-up and put Maharashtra in command position at the end of the third and penultimate day in the crucial Ranji Trophy Elite Group 'A' match in Delhi on Thursday.
Munaf bagged six wickets for 50 runs in 27 overs as defending champions Railways, struggling to avoid relegation, collapsed for a paltry 140, conceding a 97-run first innings lead.
The visitors, who had scored 237 in their first essay, were 91 for three in the second innings, thus extending their overall lead to 188 runs with seven wickets in hand.
Railways need a miracle to save their place in the elite group as they have only four points from five outings, the same as Maharashtra, who are now in the driver's seat, at least assured of the first innings lead and two points, unless something dramatic happens on the last day.
Resuming at their overnight score of 43 for no loss, Railways lost 10 wickets for just 97 runs in 52.4 overs.
Munaf bowled well; he was penetrating and incisive, but the way the Railways batsmen caved in, on a track they are so used to, was surprising.
Overnight batsmen Amit Pagnis and Sunjoy Bangar started well, adding 10 runs to the team's total and there was no hint of the impending disaster. However, once Pagnis was out, with the score 52, caught by Aphale off Patel, an unexpected collapse began.
The way the Railways batsmen panicked, it was hard to believe that this very team had won the Trophy few months back at the same venue.
Pagnis top-scored with 36 (6 x 4, 98 minutes) and 10 minutes later skipper Sanjay Bangar was also on his way back to pavilion after being clean bowled by Munaf. His 21 came in 143 minutes and included two hits to the fence.
After that, Railways wickets fell like nine pins and at lunch they were 98 for five.
The post-lunch session saw the hosts adding 42 runs to the total before being bundled out. Sairaj Bahutule took two wickets for 29 runs and two were run-outs.
Maharashtra's second innings began on a none-too-happy note as they lost their first wicket when the score was 11. Opener S Satbhai (4) was trapped leg before by J P Yadav.
A 44-run second wicket stand between Dheeraj Jadhav and Hrishikesh Kanitkar consolidated Maharashtra's position before Madan Yadav bowled Kanitkar, who scored 22 (3 x 4, 99 minutes).
Kulmani Parida then accounted for other opener, Dheeraj Jadhav (26), to make it 63 for three but after that Abhijit Kale (32) and Bahutule (1) took the score to 91 without getting separated.
Maharashtra (1st innings): 237
Railways (1st innings):
A Pagnis c Aphale b Patel 36
S Bangar b Patel 21
V Saxena run out (Burkul) 19
J P Yadav c Burkul b Bahutule 7
R Ali c Satbhai b Patel 7
Y Goud lbw Patel 9
S Khanolkar not out 20
S Wankhede c Satbhai b Patel 2
H Singh b Patel 0
K Parida run out (Pawar) 5
M Yadav st Satbhai b Bahutule 0
Extras: (b 2, lb 3, nb 9) 14
Total: (all out, 71.4 overs, 318 mins) 140
Fall of wickets: 1-52, 2-62, 3-88, 4-89, 5-96, 6-113, 7-124, 8-126, 9-136, 10-140.
Bowling: Patel 27-8-50-6 (6nb), Burkul 18-7-39-0, R Jadhav 4-1-11-0, Bahutule 18.4-8-29-2 (3nb), Pawar 4-2-6-0.
Maharashtra (2nd innings):
D Jadhav st Wankhede b Parida 26
S Satbhai lbw J P Yadav 4
H Kanitkar b M S Yadav 22
A Kale not out 32
S Bahutule not out 1.
Extras: (b 3, nb 3) 6
Total: (3 wickets, 47 overs) 91
To bat: M Patel, S Burkul, R Jadhav, Y Pawar, Y Takawale, K Aphale.
Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-55, 3-63.
Bowling: Harvinder Singh 10-3-15-0 (3nb), J P Yadav 5-1-8-1, Bangar 4-3-4-0, M S Yadav 18-4-39-1, Parida 10-4-22-1.