Captain Mohammad Kaif (73) and wicketkeeper Naman Ojha (85) struck half-centuries as Central Zone recovered from a top order collapse to trail South Zone by just three runs on the second day of the Duleep Trophy match at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Friday.
At draw of stumps, Central were 326 for 9 in reply to South's 329 all out, thanks to Kaif and Ojha who stitched a 127-run run stand for the fifth wicket after the side was reduced to 78 for four.
Murali Kartik was not out on 23 at close, with Umesh Yadav the only batsman left for Central Zone.
Resuming at the overnight 30 for no loss, Central lost four quick wickets in the morning session. Tanmay Srivastava was the first to be dismissed, to part-timer Robin Uttappa for 24, at team's score of 52.
Shivakant Shukla (26) was the next batsman to go, falling to S Sreesanth six overs later for the addition of just 13 more runs.
Yere Goud (4) and Parvinder Singh (5) followed the two openers to the hut in quick succession as Central were reduced to 78 for 4 before the rescue act of Kaif and Ojha.
India discard Kaif, who showed no mercy to South Zone bowlers in his 50-ball 47 in the morning session, dropped anchor after lunch and his century-plus stand with Ojha rescued the Central innings.
Kaif scored his third half-century and Ojha his second of the first-class season as the two took Central past 200 before Kaif was dismissed by M Suresh at team's score of 205.
Kaif hit 11 fours and a six in his 118-ball innings. His was the only wicket to fall in the post-lunch session.
Ojha's 85 came off 168 balls and included seven fours and two sixes before he fell to Sreesanth.
After Kaif's dismissal he found support in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who scored a dogged 68-ball 28.
Towards close, Piyush Chawla (35) and Kartik (23 not out) came up with some fireworks to inch Central closer towards the South Zone total.
Chawla's 35 came from just 28 balls which included seven hits to the fence before he fell to R Ashwin, while Kartik was just a shade less attacking in his 32-ball unbeaten 23 which was studded with four boundaries.
For South Zone, Sreesanth returned 3/92 from his 25 overs while Laxmipathy Balaji and Robin Uttappa took two wickets apiece.
South Zone (1st innings):
A Mukund c Ojha b Pankaj Singh 13
R Uthappa c Kartik b Pankaj Singh 22
R Dravid c Parvinder Singh b Yadav 7
VVS Laxman c Ojha b Yadav 13
S Badrinath c Kartik b Kumar 13
A Yadav c Kaif b Yadav 3
K Karthik c Goud b Kumar 153
R Ashwin c Parvinder Singh b Yadav 23
M Suresh not out 58
L Balaji b Yadav 1
S Sreesanth lbw Kartik 8
Extras: (b 4, lb 4, w 2, nb 5) 15
Total: (all out; 73.5 overs) 329 (4.45 runs per over)
Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-53, 3-57, 4-78, 5-81, 6-86, 7-144, 8-290, 9-310, 10-329.
Bowling: Pankaj Singh 17-3-77-2; B Kumar 20-4-68-2 (5nb, 1w); U Yadav 23-5-76-5; M Kartik 7.5-0-42-1; P Chawla 4-0-34-0; Parvinder Singh 2-0-24-0 (1w).
Central Zone (1st innings):
T Srivastava c Karthik b Uthappa 24
S Shukla b Sreesanth 26
Y Goud c Karthik b Balaji 4
M Kaif c Uthappa b Suresh 73
Parvinder Singh lbw Sreesanth 5
N Ojha lbw Sreesanth 85
B Kumar c Karthik b Uthappa 28
P Chawla c Laxman b Ashwin 35
M Kartik not out 23
Pankaj Singh lbw Balaji 1
Extras: (b 4, lb 5, w 7, nb 6) 22
Total: (for 9 wickets; 100.1 overs) 326
To bat: U Yadav
Fall of wickets: 1-52, 2-65, 3-65, 4-78, 5-205, 6-265, 7-266, 8-323, 9-326.
Bowling: Balaji 28.1-8-72-2 (1nb, 1w); Sreesanth 25-4-92-3 (5nb, 2w), Ashwin 26-1-86-1, Uthappa 11-2-41-2, Suresh 10-1-26-1.