Opener Lokesh Rahul continued his dream form as he blazed his way to a brilliant unbeaten 121 after a classy 185 in the first innings as South Zone looked in cruise control in pursuit of 301 against Central in the Duleep Trophy final, here on Saturday.
At stumps, South were 184 for one with Rahul looking composed during another impressive knock 5that came off 132 balls as he seems to have all but sealed the third opener's slot for the Test tour of Australia. Rahul struck 12 fours and five sixes.
South now require another 117 runs to lift the trophy.
There were two centuries on the day with Central's Robin Bist, batting with the tail, making a gutsy 112 not out.
Taking away no credit from Bist, Karnataka youngster's innings was a notch above in terms of quality as he showed why former India captain Sourav Ganguly had rated him among the talented crop of Gen-Next batsman.
A man for big occasions, Rahul's two centuries in a Duleep Trophy final certainly consolidated his position as a probable selection candidate.
A target of 301 in the fourth innings was not easy, especially on a track where there were some cracks which were widening with passage of every over. But Rahul's technique looked compact and even more praiseworthy was his temperament during the last two sessions of the day. The intent was positive from the start and footwork immaculate.
In order to smother any turn, Rahul repeatedly came down the track to drive on either side of the wicket.
His lofted shots were regal as all the spinners including Piyush Chawla, Ali Murtaza and Jalaj Saxena were hit for sixes. All the shots were hit in the front arc. When Jalaj bowled full with a vacant point region, Rahul played back-to-back reverse sweeps.
Rahul finally completed his century by hitting Chawla over mid-wicket for a six. Such was the dominance of Rahul that by the time he reached his second ton, team's total was still less than 150 (148).
But with a job at hand, there was no visible lapse of concentration or elation after reaching the landmark.
Robin Uthappa (30) played the second fiddle during the 103-run opening stand just like Baba Aparajith (30) did for the second wicket stand.
Earlier, Bist made amends for missing out on a ton in the first innings as his 112 off 174 balls (8x4, 2x6) was a commendable effort despite losing all specialist batsmen by the time he had reached 45.
He added 104 runs for the eighth wicket with Ali Murtaza (50) as it laid the foundation for a competitive second innings total of 403 as well as a respectable lead of 300.
Bist paced his innings beautifully as he hit some lovely cover drives off Pragyan Ojha (3/99) and Shreyash Gopal (4/60).
He completed his ton with a six over long on off Abhimanyu Mithun. It came off 163 balls. The second 50 came off only 37 balls.
Brief Scores: Central Zone 276 and 403 in 105.5 overs (Robin Bist 112 no, Faiz Fazal 72, Jalaj Saxena 71, Ali Murtaza 50, S Gopal 4/60, P Ojha 3/99).
South Zone 379 & (target 301) 184/1.(Rahul 121 batting).