East Zone bowlers led by the seasoned Laxmi Ratan Shukla rattled South Zone in the final hour reducing them to 236 for nine despite Robin Uthappa scoring a well-crafted hundred on the first day of the Duleep Trophy semi-final in Lahli on Wednesday.
South Zone were cruising along at 211 for two before last hour and quarter saw them lose as many as seven wickets for 25 runs to hand over the momentum to East by stumps.
While Uthappa should be lauded for his 120 that took him over five hours and 196 balls, veteran Bengal all-rounder Shukla showed the likes of Varun Aaron on how to make best use of a seaming track as he ended with figures of 4-30 in 17 overs.
The best part about Shukla's bowling was his ability to make the batsmen play and bowl the incutters effectively as he got rid of Lokesh Rahul (21), Karun Nair (32), Dinesh Karthik (9) and R Vinay Kumar (0) with his incisive swing bowling.
This was after Uthappa displayed a lot of grit and determination curbing his natural instincts en route his 15th first-class hundred in his 99th appearance. The Coorgi hit 14 boundaries and two sixes -- one of them a pulled maximum off Ashoke Dinda over backward square leg to reach 99.
Uthappa got to his century with nice on-drive off Dinda but the best shot was a straight drive off the Bengal speedster.
The discarded India opener was ready to play the waiting game during the first session and half as he hit the occasional boundary and took a lot of singles after being dropped by Sudeep Chatterjee at third slip off Dinda's bowling, when he was batting on 10.
It was a slow start for South as Rahul and Uthappa added 43 in 25 overs before Shukla provided the breakthrough with one that jagged back to breach Rahul's defence.
Karun and Robin then settled down for a steady partnership of 94 runs for the second wicket before Shukla got the only breakthrough in the post-lunch session.
He bowled close to the off-stump and Karun with negligible room to play the cut shot gave a simple catch to Saurabh Tiwary at second slip.
Karun's dismissal however didn't open the door for East as Aaron, playing this match was wayward and for once didn't find his rhythm during 12 overs that he bowled in short spells throughout the day. He bowled too short at times as Uthappa and others left it alone.
Though the speed gun touched close to 145 kmph number of times it was Shukla, who showed Aaron the length and the area that was needed to bowl on this 22-yard track.
It was Manish Pandey's (26) dismissal after a 74-run third wicket stand, that sparked a collapse, as he squared up to a Rana Dutta outswinger and Saurabh at second slip took his second catch.
Once Pandey was gone, Uthappa edged one off Dutta to Wriddhiman Saha behind the stumps as it become 212 for four.
Karthik (9) and talented Baba Aparajith (7) didn't last long. Karthik played to a wrong line off an incoming delivery from Shukla while Aparajith was also beaten by Basant Mohanty's swing.
Stuart Binny (5) was out cheaply as he drove uppishly to East skipper Manoj Tiwary at covers off Dinda while Shukla bowled a well disguised slower to get rid off R Vinay Kumar.
It was Dinda, who got one to nip slightly as Pragyan Ojha (0) became the ninth wicket to fall with umpires call it day.
Brief Scores: South Zone 1st Innings 236/9 in 86.5 overs (Robin Uthappa 120, Karun Nair 32, LR Shukla 4-30, Rana Dutta 2-60, Ashoke Dinda 2-51) vs East Zone.
Image: Robin Uthappa
Photograph: Kamal Kishore/Reuters