Shepherded by Priyank Panchal’s spunky innings, West Zone defied South Zone bowlers while chasing a formidable 298 and finished day four of the Duleep Trophy final at 182 for five on Saturday. They still need 116 more runs to retain their title, setting the stage for an exciting concluding day.

In the first session, South, who were 181 for 7 overnight, were bowled out for 230 as left-arm spinner Dharmendra Jadeja grabbed five wickets. But the day’s protagonist was the West Zone captain. Panchal, who completed 8000 runs in First-Class cricket en route to his 92 off 205 balls, kept the hopes of West alive on an attritional day.

Panchal and Sarfaraz Khan amassed 98 runs for the fifth wicket alliance in which the former was the steering force. Panchal has been one of the prominent domestic batters over the last few seasons, and it was not very difficult to see why. He brought forward his years of experience to thwart the South bowlers for 315 minutes.

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The Gujarat batter, who hogged the headlines after his 1310-run season in 2016-17, showed unflappable temperament despite wickets falling at the other end regularly. Panchal and Cheteshwar Pujara (15) showed the first glimpse of West fighting through a 57-run alliance for the third wicket off 125 balls.

They seemed unruffled for most part but pacer Vasuki Koushik ended the burgeoning stand dismissing Pujara. The veteran batter’s thick outside edge went to Tilak Varma at forward short leg.

Suryakumar Yadav continued his disappointing show in this Duleep Trophy, falling for another low score.

The Mumbaikar offered no shot to Koushik as the ball came and thudded onto his pads and umpire Akshay Totre did not have to think long to raise his finger. At 79 for 4, West seemed to be hurtling down the road to perdition and they needed some solidity.

Panchal and Sarfaraz (48) provided precisely that. They batted together for 126 minutes and for 157 balls as West began to dream about a win that looked improbable at one stage.

Sarfaraz was extremely fortunate too. While on zero, he set out for a non-existent single and was sent back by Panchal. But Sachin Baby’s throw was way over the head of wicketkeeper Ricky Bhui, saving Sarfaraz.

Vysakh Vijayakumar resorted to the short-pitched ball strategy that he employed with good results in the first innings. But this time, both Panchal and Sarfaraz were better prepared to blunt him, even though the latter copped a blow to his helmet.

Just as it seemed that the pair would take West to the close safely, Sarfaraz fell to R Sai Kishore. The left-arm spinner pushed the ball through the air a bit quicker and Sarfaraz played all over it to get bowled. South might be hugely relieved to see Sarfaraz walk back but they still have to complete a big job.

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