"Keep things simple" at all times. That's the mantra Vidarbha's bowlers used on the first day of their Irani Cup match against Rest of India, and the one that earned them rewards, according to off-spinner Akshay Wakhare.
At one stage after lunch, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari had set RoI's base towards a mammoth first-innings score when they were 171 for 1, with both batsmen nearing centuries. But disciplined bowling from Vidarbha meant nine wickets fell for only 159 more runs.
After Agarwal and Vihari had started well, the spinners found their rhythm to systematically dismantle a team whose batting looks powerful on paper. What worked for Vidarbha was their decision to switch to attritional cricket. Ajinkya Rahane could hit no boundaries in his 38-ball stay, and after his wicket in the 50th over, the RoI batsmen could find the fence only 13 more times.
"After the start they got, I think our bowlers applied themselves really well to make a comeback," Wakhare said after the first day's play. "When Rahane came, we decided to focus bowling on maidens during that period. We built pressure on the batsmen to score runs, and that's how we got his wicket."
Wakhare, himself, had the brightest bowling figures on the day, although two of his three scalps were lower-order batsmen. The top-order batsman that he dismissed - the hard-hitting Ishan Kishan - fell to a specific plan to bait him into throwing his wicket away.
"Ishan Kishan is basically a hitter, he never does defense, we know that," Wakhare said. "We've been playing for 3-4 years together so we know how he plays. I had very simple plans, bowl away from him, don't give him easy runs and he will try something."
That plan forced Kishan to try and clear the cover-fielder, but with the ball turning away from him, all he could do was splice a simple catch to the infielder. The turn was prominent as the day's play progressed, and Wakhare said that the pace of the spin bowler determined how much (or little) the ball turns in Nagpur. In all, the spinners accounted for seven RoI wickets.
"At first, we thought it was going to turn if spinners bowl fast, but it wasn't like that," Wakhare said. "You had to look to bowl slow to extract spin here."
For Vidarbha, though, the job has just begun. On a pitch that has had an average first-innings score of just under 400, a result is always likely.
Wakhare felt that Vidarbha's opening pair holds the key to their success, and that if they manage to consolidate well on the second morning, then Vidarbha would be favourites to defend their Irani Cup title, despite the line-up lacking Wasim Jaffer, who is sitting out with injury.
"The batting wicket is very good," Wakhare said. "If we get a good opening stand, then there's no stopping us."