Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara credited all-rounder Hardik Pandya for helping India stay afloat in the first Test against South Africa.
Pandya’s 93 and 2/17 has given India some toehold 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 after the day’s play.
“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,” Pujara added.
“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.
“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.
India struggled in the morning session against the relentless South African pace bowling quartet, in particular Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.
The duo shared six wickets between them. This was before Dale Steyn walked off injured and was ruled out of the remainder of this Test.
“They bowled in the right areas obviously, but at the same time we knew what we wanted to do. We almost got that I think. Rohit got out but otherwise we were trying to build a partnership and we almost got it. So, overall in the first session we lost just one wicket and we did bat well today,” said Pujara.
“The minus point was losing three wickets yesterday, that’s where I think we should have batted better. To be honest, I should have left the ball (after tea) alone. It was outside the off-stump. I made a mistake and got out. It deviated a little more than what I expected but at the same time I made the mistake and I had to pay the price for it,” he added.
Talking about facing the pace quartet, he added:”This is one of the best attacks obviously. All of their bowlers have always done well, especially in South Africa. They know which areas to bowl in.
“When I bat, I dont look at the bowler and the bowling line-up, I try and look at the ball, try and keep it simple. As a batsman I would want to concentrate on what I would like to do rather than thinking whether they have the best bowlers in the world. It hardly matters if you score runs.”
Talking about the wicket, Pujara said: “It might deteriorate a bit but at the same time I think there is something in it for the fast bowlers still.
“We will try and exploit some areas where we know that there will be some seam movement for the fast bowlers. There is a lot of time remaining in this match and that is good because rain is forecast for Sunday, so there is a lot of time to get a result in this match.”
Pujara feels that a target of 350 can be chased on the 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.