Skipper Gautam Gambhir's 37th first-class century might have made his case stronger for an India comeback but his knock could not help North Zone overhaul Central Zone's imposing first innings score on Day 3 of the four-day Duleep Trophy semi-final in Mohali.
Responding to Central's first innings score of 538, North fought hard but were bowled out for 457 as Gambhir top-scored with a patient 167.
Gambhir's fourth-wicket partnership with Mandeep Singh (74) was the highlight of the innings as North saw some useful contributions from Yuvraj Singh (47), wicketkeeper-batsman Nitin Saini (56) and Jammu and Kashmir all-rounder Parvez Rasool (44).
Another Delhi veteran, Virender Sehwag had already lost his wicket yesterday after a 22-ball 32 at the No.3 position.
Gambhir, who batted for over five and a half hours, hit 18 boundaries but was finally scalped by Pankaj Singh's new-ball partner Ishwar Pandey.
Central bowler Kuldeep Yadav (3-94) was the destroyer-in-chief, as the upcoming chinaman bagged three wickets to break North's momentum time and again.
Kuldeep, who is making his first-class debut, accounted for the wickets of Yuvraj, Rishi Dhawan (7) and Saini.
Pace spearhead Pankaj (2-77), Pandey (2-86) and leg-spinner Karn Sharma (2-67) also chipped in with useful strikes while skipper Piyush Chawla also picked a wicket.
Central's strong position, are all but through to the final, is courtesy Naman Ojha's scintillating 217 on the second day's play and Jalaj Saxena's 110 on the opening day.
North, who had an inauspicious start after regular captain Harbhajan Singh was ruled out on the eve of the semi-final due to viral fever, also lost the toss and soon the momentum post a 140-run third-wicket partnership between Jalaj and Ojha.
Defending champions alongwith with South Zone, North, last won an independent title in 2007-08 season while Central won the crown in 2004-05 season after defeating North in the final.
Image: Gautam Gambhir
Photograph: Vivek Prakash/Reuters