Indian pace spearhead Ishant Sharma has said the partnership between captain Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya will be crucial to the visitors on the upcoming morning session of Day 3 of the second Test against South Africa in Centurion.
The tall Delhi fast bowler warned South Africa of Pandya's ability to take the game away from them if he gets going on what is a surprisingly slow SuperSport Park wicket.
In reply to South Africa's first innings score of 335, India finished Day 2 on 183 for 5. Captain Kohli remained unbeaten on 85 and Pandya had made a 29-ball 11 at Stumps.
Kohli stood tall on Day 2 despite South Africa bowlers coming hard at him. The likes of Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and debutant Lungi Ngidi kept testing the Indian captain with the "nagging" line outside off stump, but he found ways to score runs and keep India in the hunt.
"[The partnership between Pandya and Kohli] I think its pretty important obviously. Because the way Virat is playing, it is totally a different game and if Hardik gets going he can take the game away from the opposition," Ishant told reporters after the second day's play in Centurion.
He added: "I think he backs his strength totally and I think I am hopeful he will take the game away from South Africa."
Notably, Pandya had hit a counter-attacking 93 off just 95 balls in Cape Town where conditions were more pacer-friendly than in Centurion. The young Baroda all-rounder took the attack to the opposition, slamming 14 boundaries and a six.
Ishant relishing burden of responsibility
Ishant himself was under some pressure as he was slotted into the playing XI to replace an in-form Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was benched despite his all-round performance (six wickets and 38 runs) in India's 72-run defeat in Cape Town last week.
However, the 29-year-old began from where had he left off against Sri Lanka at home to pick up crucial wickets for the team. Ishant removed the likes of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis to make sure the hosts were bowled out for 335.
Also, Ishant gave good support to off-spinner R Ashwin, who picked up four wickets. The lanky pacer conceded only 46 runs from the 22 overs he bowled in the first innings.
"Obviously, I am the senior fast bowler of this team so I have to take responsibility. If I am ready to take responsibility and take those important wickets for the team, I am always up for it," Ishant said.