Mumbai: A resolute unbeaten century by Ambati Rayudu helped Rest of India take a firm grip over the Irani Cup match against Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai, here, on Saturday.
Riding on Rayudu's undefeated knock of 118, Rest of India finished the fourth day's play at 296 for four, taking their overall lead to a whopping 413 runs and have virtually put their hands on the trophy which they would be winning for 25th time.
With fate of the match virtually sealed, first innings centurion Suresh Raina is looking good for a second century in the match and is batting on 40.
The only interest on the fifth and final day will be on whether the selectors include the performers in this match in the squad for Test series against Australia.
Apart from the century in the second innings, Rayudu had also scored a half-century in the first innings. He has had a good Ranji season for Baroda and also scored a century for India A against New Zealand.
The 27-year-old batsman resurrected the Rest second innings as they were tottering at 67 for three at one stage. Rayudu added 140 runs for the fourth wicket with Manoj Tiwary, who hit a dogged 69.
During his 217 ball unbeaten knock, Rayudu hit nine fours and four sixes ' all of them being straight lofts. This was his 14th century in first-class cricket.
Rest, who began the day at 27 for one, struggled for runs in the morning session with the Mumbai pacers extracting a lot of movement.
Nightwatchman Sreesanth (18) was run-out by a direct hit from cover point fielder Rohit Sharma. He responded to a call for a sharp single from partner Murali Vijay, but was beaten by an agile throw from Rohit.
Vijay, scorer of a fluent century in the first innings, struggled against Dhawal Kulkarni and Shardul Thakur, edged the former once to Kaustubh Pawar, substituting for Sachin Tendulkar who was off the field for the entire day, at gully and survived.
But Thakur bowled an outswinger and Vijay tried to drive on the up only to offer a simple catch to Rohit as Rest were reduced to 67 for three.
The Tamil Nadu batsman's dismissal brought in Rayudu together with Tiwary, who looked scratchy in the initial stages of his innings and was also dropped by wicketkeeper Aditya Tare when he inside-edged Kulkarni early on.
Tiwary was also lucky not to be given out when on 4 when he was rapped in front by an in-dipper from Abhishek Nayar.
Surviving this difficult phase, the Bengal batsman grew in confidence as the pitch eased out and with ball getting older, the bowlers lost sting.
Rayudu was the more aggressive player in the fifth wicket century partnership that steadied the rocking boat.
Both played freely against the spinners and struck boundaries and sixes to up the scoring rate.
Rayudu used his feet very well to negotiate the spinners after playing cautiously against the new ball bowlers in the morning when conditions were in favour of the fielding team. The duo accelerated in the second session after they played defensively in the morning period as Rest added 108 runs in 34 overs.