India captain Virat Kohli said Hardik Pandya is a "great asset" to the team after the all-rounder guided India home to series-clinching win against Australia in the third ODI at Indore on Sunday. Promoted to No.4, Pandya rose to the occasion with a fluent 78-run knock as India registered a five-wicket win over Australia to grab the number one spot in the ICC ODI rankings.
Chasing 294 for a win, India overhauled the target with 13 balls to spare in front of a packed Holkar stadium to take a series-clinching 3-0 lead.
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Openers Rohit Sharma (71) and Ajikya Rahane (70) set the platform for the win with their 139-run partnership while Pandya steered the side to victory with his crucial knock, which came off 72 balls. Pandya struck five fours and four sixes after he was surprisingly promoted up the order.
"Rohit and Rahane were very good and then Hardik Pandya, only he can do what he does when he bats like that. Pandya is a star. He possess ability with the bat, ball and in the field as well," Kohli said after the match.
"We have been wanting a guy like that for the past five, six years. A really explosive all-rounder is what we were missing and he's giving us that balance. A great asset for Indian cricket and I wish him all the best for the future," Kohli added.
India began their chase with a 139-run opening stand. Rohit reached his 33rd ODI half-century off 42 balls, while Rahane got his second successive half-century - and 21st overall in ODIs - off 50 deliveries.
India's 100 came up off only 90 balls as the duo continued to attack Australia. Rohit was the first to fall, miscuing a shot to deep midwicket off Nathan Coulter-Nile in the 22nd over. Rohit faced 62 balls overall, and hit six fours and four sixes.
When Rahane was trapped leg before by Pat Cummins (2-54), Pandya and Kohli (28) were brought together at the crease, and they kept the attacking momentum going.
The duo added 56 runs for the third wicket. Pandya took a liking to Ashton Agar and carted him for four sixes, bringing up his 50 partnership with Kohli off 55 balls. India crossed 200 in the 34th over and the result seemed a formality.
Australia struck back with a double-blow. Kohli holed out to long-on off Agar in the 35th over, while in the next over, Kedar Jadhav (2) was caught behind off Kane Richardson. India was reduced to 206/4. Manish Pandey (36 not out) then joined Pandya and put on 78 runs for the fifth wicket. Pandya fell with 10 runs needed, holing out to mid-on off Cummins. MS Dhoni (3 not out) completed the formalities.
Kohli revealed that it was coach Ravi Shastri's idea to promote Pandya up the order.
"Pandya's promotion today was Ravi Bhai's (Ravi Shastri) thought. He felt we needed to attack the spinner. We totally back him and he's a hard working guy.
This was Kohli's 30th win in 38 ODIs as captain, second only to Ricky Ponting (31).
"Credit to the whole squad for the series win, but the journey stops only after the final game," he said.