Mumbai: Central Zone upstaged star-studded North Zone by four runs in a close match to remain in the hunt for the title in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Inter Zonal League at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Central, put in to bat, batted reasonably well to score 167 for 7, and then stopped North, who at one stage threatened to reach the target when Yuvraj Singh (33 in 20 balls with four sixes) lashed three sixes in the 18th over, at 163 for 6.
It was Central's second victory in three games while they dumped their rivals to their second defeat in three.
In the first game of the day, East Zone drubbed South Zone by six wickets with two balls to spare to notch their second win in as many matches.
East were powered past the target of 179, set by South, by a whirlwind knock of 90 in 51 balls by Ishank Jaggi who smacked the listless rival bowling attack to strike four sixes and 11 fours.
East have two more games in hand in the league while the other four teams have one each going into the last two days of the tournament with matches scheduled for tomorrow and on the 18th.
In the afternoon's North-Central match, leggie Karn Sharma emerged the bowling hero for Central by packing off openers Gautam Gambhir, Shikhar Dhawan and rival captain Harbhajan Singh, who promoted himself to one-down, that left North in trouble.
And when the young Rishabh Pant too departed at 90 in the 14th over, things appeared uphill for North and it did too as the side needed 52 in the last 18 balls when Yuvraj staged one of his now patented leg-side attacks and the bowler to suffer was left arm pacer Aniket Chaudhary.
Three balls disappeared over the ropes out of four bowled by Chaudhary, between mid-wicket and square leg, before the bowler had the last laugh as he had the left-handed stalwart caught in the same area off the last ball.
Tall Manpreet Singh Grewal (formerly Gony) used the long handle when 31 were needed off the last two overs but his efforts, including successive sixes off the last two balls, were not enough to overtake the Central score.
In the Central innings, captain and wicket keeper Naman Ojha played sensibly to make 48 off 34 balls while Mahesh Rawat remained unconquered on 57 in 40 balls to help the team recover from 40 for 3.
Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh grabbed three and two wickets respectively.
In the morning, Jharkhand batsman Jaggi, caught off a no-ball off Vijay Shankar which was decided through TV replay when on 39, played the match-winning knock after having made 51 not out against Central earlier in the tournament.
Jaggi, who is not among the list of players circulated to the franchises for IPL auction on February 20 in Bengaluru, could not have responded to the snub in a better manner.
Coming to the crease after the early departure of the highly rated Ishan Kishan, the 28-year-old Jaggi forged stands of 64 for the second wicket with Shreevats Goswami (25) and 81 in only seven overs with big-hitting left-hander Saurabh Tiwary who made 33 in 23 balls.
The duo were dismissed in close proximity but not before placing East well in sight of the victory target. Left arm pacer Sreenath Aravind gave away 21 runs in the 15th over to this duo who hit a six each and two fours in that over that virtually ended South's hopes.
Batting first, South had one big partnership to thank for in making a challenging score of 178 for 6.
Opener Mayank Agarwal, who slammed 72 in just 36 balls with 3 sixes and 9 fours, provided the early momentum with captain R Vinay Kumar (68 in 47 balls), who came in at no. 3 in a surprise move.
The Karnataka duo stitched a second wicket stand of 112 to put South in a good position to reach 200.
But, South lost their way after Agarwal was sent back by rival captain Manoj Tiwary who also accounted for Vinay Kumar and fell short of what they were well-poised for. East skipper Tiwary finished with 3 for 31.
South Zone 178 for 6 (M Agarwal 72, R Vinay Kumar 68; Manoj Tiwary 3 for 31) lost to East Zone 181 for 4 in 19.4 overs (I Jaggi 90, Saurabh Tiwary 33).
Central 167 for 7 (N Ojha 48, M Rawat 57 not out; A Nehra 3 for 26, Harbhajan Singh 2 for 35) beat North Zone 163 for 6 (S Dhawan 37, Yuvraj Singh 33; Manpreet Grewal 23 not out; Karn Sharma 3 for 17).
Later speaking to reporters, Jaggi said, "I am disappointed, but I have to keep performing. I am a professional cricketer and want to keep growing. These things make me mentally stronger as the challenge is huge. Every player is almost the same level so I need to do things that will make me move ahead,".
"It was an important knock because our team won. Also, it was important on a personal level because I was disappointed last evening (since he is not part of the pool for the players auction). It has been a good season for me as I feel I have hit the peak," he said after his match-winning knock. "I have played so much of domestic cricket that I know all about it and want to graduate to the next level. That is why this knock was so important. It will help me move up to the next level.
"Honestly, the audition with IPL teams is not of much help. I have been there two years ago and know how things work. At least it has not worked for me as I feel scoring runs at the first class level is more beneficial than only doing well at the trials. That said, it's strictly my opinion. All said, I am really happy with the way I performed today," he said.
"IPL is the biggest platform. You can perform well in domestic cricket but if you continue that form in IPL it will take you much higher," Jaggi added ruefully.
Updated Date: Feb 16, 2017 11:11 AM