Little-known and batting with the tail, Akshay Karnewar struck his maiden first-class century to hand Vidarbha a crucial 95-run first-innings lead before Rest of India, riding on a fighting partnership, erased the deficit in the Irani Cup here on Thursday.
With Ajinkya Rahane (25) and Hanuma Vihari (40) walking back unbeaten at stumps, the third day's play ended on an even keel.
The hosts, who resumed the day on 245 for six, ended their first innings at 425, courtesy Karnewar's unbeaten knock of 102 off 133 balls. The hosts had bowled Rest of India out for 330 in their first essay.
First-innings centurion Vihari then showed defiance and added 56 runs for the third wicket with skipper Ajinkya Rahane, which helped the visitors wipe off the deficit and finish the day seven runs ahead at 102 for two on a deteriorating pitch at the VCA Stadium.
Earlier, Karnewar, who has played just 11 first-class matches and also bowls slow left-arm spin, proved his mettle with the bat.
At the start of the day, Vidarbha's hopes for the first-innings lead depended on the blade of their wicket-keeper Akshay Wadkar, who was overnight unbeaten on 50.
Wadkar (73) and Karnewar (15 not out overnight) added 79 runs for the seventh wicket and when the former was cleaned up by young leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, Vidarbha needed another 24 runs to go ahead.
Karnewar then not only held the innings together, but also took the opposition bowlers to task, striking 13 fours and two sixes.
Seasoned off-spinner Akshay Wakahre (20) and pacer Rajneesh Gurbani (28 not out) too played handy knocks as the hosts extended their lead.
For RoI, Chahar (4/112) was the pick of the bowlers, while Karnataka spinner K Gowtham (2/33), Saurashtra spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja (2/111) and UP pacer Ankit Rajpoot (2/84) were also among the wickets.
In their second essay, ROI opener Anmolpreet Singh (6) fell cheaply while India international Mayank Agarwal, who had scored 95 in the first essay, was dismissed on 27.
Vihari and Rahane ensured there was no further damage and held the innings together.