Kolkata: Centuries from top-order batsmen Swapnil Gugale and Chirag Khurana kept Maharashtra in the hunt against a wary Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy cricket semifinal at Eden Gardens here on Saturday.
Resuming the day 439 runs behind, opener and comeback man Gugale slammed 154 with 28 fours, while No 3 batsman Khurana played a perfect ally with an equally delightful 125 (13x4) as the duo stitched together 270 in 469 balls for the second wicket to curtail the deficit.
Ankeet Bawne, unbeaten on 47 (9x4), and captain Rohit Motwani (4*) were at the crease with Maharashtra 394/5 at stumps, trailing Tamil Nadu by 155 runs.
With the match heading towards a draw, the first-innings lead is all set to determine the second finalists against defending champions Karnataka for the Ranji Trophy summit clash in Mumbai from March 8-12.
In reply to the massive 549 by Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra batsmen showed fine temperament and with little assistance for the bowlers from the Eden surface, it was a chance worth taking.
Earlier in the morning, Gugale and Khurana showed the way as the overnight duo carried forward from where they left and never looked in trouble against the Tamil Nadu bowlers.
Gugale, who was dropped after making first class debut against Rajasthan in 2010-11, continued his fine form this season as he got to his second century by slicing Aswin Crist through third man boundary in the morning session.
Making a comeback after four seasons, Gugale had earlier scored a career best 174 against Delhi and this was the 23-year-old's second century in five matches in the ongoing Ranji Trophy.
"I always dreamt of scoring a century at the Eden Gardens. I will always cherish this moment," Gugale said.
It was a perfect start for Maharashtra who scored 119 runs from 31 overs in the first session without losing any wicket.
Khurana followed his opening partner by getting to his fourth first-class century when he straight drove Aswin for a single after lunch.
Gugale lost his patience momentarily when he tried to pull offspinner Baba Aparajith, but could not clear Laxmipathy Balaji at deep midwicket 20 overs.
Rahul Tripathi (2) was adjudged lbw as Aswin gave a second breakthrough before tea.
Aswin (2/80) was Tamil Nadu's most effective bowler as the seamer got a prized scalp in Khurana who misjudged an incoming delivery and got a nick to be caught by wicketkeeper.
Kedar Jadhav played a typical quickfire innings of 26 off 25 balls before being dismissed by Rangarajan.
"I wanted to carry all day but it was very good ball. But I'm happy with my effort. Gugale was playing the shots and I was more content to add to the tally," Khurana said.
"We have two set batsmen at the crease and we should not look back after all the hard work that we have put up," Khurana said.
Tamil Nadu 1st Innings: 549 all out; 226.4 overs.
Maharashtra 1st Innings: 394/5; 118 overs (Swapnil Gugale 154, Chirag Khurana 125, Ankit Bawne 47 batting). Match to continue.