J P Yadav claimed his second five-wicket haul of the match to push Central Zone to smelling distance of an outright victory over East Zone in a Duleep Trophy league cricket match in Gwalior on Wednesday.
Yadav snatched five for 34 in a single spell of 14 overs to bulldoze East out for 131 on the second day of the four-day contest at the Roop Singh stadium.
The Railway's medium pacer's ninth five-wicket haul followed another workhorse performance by Bengal's Shib Shankar Paul whose spectaculour six for 50 had helped the visitors bowl out Central for 189 in the first innings and grab a slender five-run lead in the morning.
At stumps, Central were seven for one after losing Faiz Fazal for two, with skipper Mohammad Kaif on four and opener Sanjay Bangar on one at the crease.
The target might be a modest 137, but with 17 wickets falling for 253 runs, none was daring to bet their money on Central yet.
It was a dizzy day as the ball dominated the bat on a pitch of uncertain bounce.
Kaif farmed his attack around the four seamers, with specialist spinners Murali Kartik and Kulamani Parida reduced to applauding the quicks and joining in the huddle after each dismissal.
Yadav followed up his career-best 5-29 in the first innings with another all-round performance, scoring a vital 29 during a 70-run partnership with Naman Ojha (40) and then following it up with a heroic bowling effort that eclipsed the comined brilliance of Paul and Ranadeb Bose who picked four for 79.
Resuming at 74 for four in the first innings, Central lost their overnight batsman Abbas Ali who failed to add to his previous evening score of seven.
But Yadav and Ojha proved to be a thorn in East's flesh as they set up on a recovery mission with caution. The duo batted for more than two hours as they added 70 runs in 182 balls for the sixth wicket.
It was not until the approach of lunch that Yadav opened his shoulders with a mighty six off Shahid Khan.
But Bose provided the breakthrough when Yadav, who faced 96 balls for his 29, played a loose drive at outside off for a catch to Dhoni.
Paul then removed the crucial wicket of Ojha with a perfect ball in the corridor of uncertainty to induce a faint edge.
A total of 144 for five suddenly became 159 for nine, and Dhoni made hay in sunshine, gloving seven catches in the innings.
Murali Kartik (29) struck six boundaries to raise Central's hopes of capturing the first innings lead but Bose trapped Parida plumb in front to signal the end.
What followed thereafter was sheer madness as batsman after batsman walked in and out in a procession. The double bounce in the wicket might have to take some portion of the blame for poor quality of batsmanship but then the presence of chairman of selectors, Kiran More, and his colleague Pranob Roy from their own zone failed to lift East's performance.
Dhoni once again flattered to deceive. Promoted to the top, the Jharkhand batsman sounded the signboards thrice before swishing at an away going delivery from Yadav to be out for 14.
Orissa opener Shiv Sundar Das was then rapped on the pads by Bangar (2-49) whose controlled swing proved the right foil for Yadav's cut.
Yadav, who has picked 38 wickets so far this season, expoited the conditions to the maximum and used the incutter to deadly effect as when he disturbed the timber of Prafulla Jaychandra.
R Satish (0) and Sanjib Sanyal (4), who had given some semblence of strength to the middle order in the first essay, could not live up to the expectations, as did Sanjay Satpathy (7), whose dismissals mainly had to do with shot selection.
Left-arm seamer Rudra Pratap Singh hastened the end with three for six from 4.4 overs.
Lakshmi Ratan Shukla, standing in for Sourav Ganguly, waged a lone battle with an unbeaten 53 from 65 balls. East could have been bowled out for a lesser total had Harvinder Singh held on to a sitter from Shukla's blade at 112 for nine.
The batsman was on 47 then, and he had another reprieve two runs later when he was grassed in the slip cordon.
Any ambitions Central might have nursed of a quick getaway was nipped in the bud when Paul struck in his second over to have Fazal caught by Arindam Das at third slip.