Cheteshwar Pujara on Saturday (January 6) heaped praise on Hardik Pandya, saying the all-rounder's "outstanding" performance on the second day of the ongoing first Test against South Africa in Cape Town steered India out of trouble.
Pandya, who was slotted into the team in place of an extra batsman, repaid the faith captain Virat Kohli has shown in him by coming up with all-round show to keep India in the contest against the mighty visitors.
Also read: SA on top despite Pandya show
Pandya hit 93, including 14 boundaries and a six, off just 95 balls and helped the team, which was reeling at 92 for 7, post 209 on board after South Africa had scored 286 in their first innings.
The Baroda all-rounder also picked up two wickets to remove South African openers Aiden Markram and Deal Elgar in the final session on Saturday. However, the visitors still ended the day's play with a 142-run lead.
'Pandya showed a lot of character'
Even as the top-order, including captain Kohi, struggled to put bat to ball against the fiery South African pace attack, Pandya, who was playing only his fourth Test, came up with an inspired performance with the bat. He started on a jittery note, but looked at ease when he began playing his shots.
"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," Pujara said after the day's play, as quoted by the Press Trust of India.
He added: "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."
"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 allrounder, it balances your team combination. I hope he continues with this.
"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."
India confident of chasing 350: Pujara
Meanwhile, Pujara lauded the South African attack, saying it is one of the best going around. However, the dependable one-drop batsman said the visitors are confident of chasing 350 in the final innings.
Notably, South Africa will be without Dale Steyn, who walked off after injuring his foot on Saturday. The pace spearhead will not bowl in the remainder of the Test and could be out of the series as well as he will need four to six weeks to recover, according to reports.
"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," Pujara said.
He added: "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."