Cheteshwar Pujara has heaped on Hardik Pandya for his all-round performance which helped India stay alive in the first Test against South Africa at the Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town. Pandya played 93-run knock and later he grabbed two wickets to give India something to hold on to for Day 3.
When India lost their fifth wicket in the form of Pujara, the visitors had managed to put up only 75 runs on the scoreboard. Pujara’s exit introduced all-rounder Pandya to the South Africans. When the Baroda cricketer left the ground after his 93-run knock Team India’s score was 199/9. Pandya’s effort gave India some hope despite a 142-run lead currently enjoyed by the home team.
"Everyone believed he (Pandya) can play such an innings and he played his shots and the environment in the dressing room became quite positive. Those runs were very important for the team and they kept us in the game," said Pujara as quoted by PTI.
"If he hadn't scored those runs, we would have been in trouble. So I think he kept us in the game and got us two wickets also at the end of day's play. So his performance was outstanding."
The 24-year-old has played 32 ODIs with a strike rate of 118.73 including four half-centuries. He has also claimed 35 wickets in the same number of matches at an average of 35.48. The Baroda all-rounder also featured in 27 T20I for India but it was his fourth Test of his career where he showed a lot of character and confidence which has impressed his senior team-mates.
"He batted really well and showed a lot of character. He hasn't played many Test matches away from home but this is the kind of innings (he played) we expected it from him if he played in the playing XI.
"I think if someone who is very promising, he is batting well, bowling well, it makes a lot of difference to the team because when you have a very good all-rounder, it balances your team combination. I hope he continues with this," said Pujara.
This is Pandya's first visit to South Africa after making his debut in January 2016. He played his first Test in Sri Lanka where he scored 178 runs in three Tests, including one century and one half-century. His performance raised the hopes of the fans and through his innings, he successfully tried to justified it who after building a 99-run partnership with Bhuvneshwar Kumar dismissed both openers – Dean Elgar and Aiden Markman - before the second-day stumps.
"It was a case of him playing his natural game. He is someone who likes to play his shots. That's how he would bat in any situation. This was the ideal situation for him to express himself and the moment he tries playing his shots he has been successful.
"We have seen that against Sri Lanka as well. When he started playing his shots he was a different player altogether. That's how he should be playing and this is what makes him a different player from a top-order batsman," he added.
The Indian bowlers especially Bhuvneshwar, who claimed four wickets, gave a good start to Team India which helped the side to wrap the South African team at 286 runs. In response, the visitors scored 209 runs thanks to Pandya and Bhuvneshwar’s partnership. Pujara feels that a target of 350 can be chased on Newlands track.
"Overall, I think we played well today and we are very much in the game. We got two wickets today and if we bowl well tomorrow, and if we are chasing somewhere around 350, I think, we are very much in the game," he signed off.