Indore - Skipper Virat Kohli on Sunday said Hardik Pandya was a "great asset" to Indian cricket after the all-rounder steered the hosts to a series-clinching five-wicket win over Australia in Indore.
Pandya's 72-ball 78 and his crucial fifth-wicket stand with Manish Pandey, who remained unbeaten on 36, helped the hosts chase down their 294-run target with 13 balls to spare.
Openers Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane put together a 139-run partnership to lay a solid foundation for the team to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series.
But it was Pandya who showed maturity after being promoted to number four in the batting order as he put on 78 runs with Pandey, who scored the winning runs.
"Rohit and Rahane were very good and then Hardik Pandya, only he can do what he does when he bats like that. He (Pandya) is a star," a delighted Kohli said after the win.
"He possess ability with the bat, ball and in the field as well. 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," he added.
It was also the Indian bowlers who set up the comfortable victory after opener Aaron Finch's blazing century, restricting the visitors to 293-6 at the batting-friendly Holkar Stadium.
In reply, Sharma, who hit 71, and Rahane, who made 70, combined the right dose of caution and aggression to give the Australian bowlers a hard time.
Sharma hit a huge six off Kane Richardson early in the innings that sailed out of the ground to signal his intent. He registered his 33rd ODI fifty with another six off Ashton Agar.
But the departure of the two openers created some opportunity for the Australian bowlers, who sometimes were left hard done by their fielders.
Kohli tried to take charge during his 56-run stand with Pandya but lost his wicket to left-arm spinner Agar.
Richardson got Kedar Jadhav caught behind for two as India suddenly found themselves in trouble at 206-4.
The 23-year-old Pandya, who survived a dropped chance by skipper Steve Smith off Agar on 41, once again made it count for India after his 83 in the opening game in Chennai.
Earlier Finch's 125-ball 124 helped Australia post 292-6 in fifty overs after electing to bat first.
Finch, who returned to the side after a calf injury, forged a 154-run second wicket stand with Smith, who made 63 - giving the visitors hope of a 300-plus score.
But fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah and left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav claimed two wickets each to help India fightback a strong start from the Aussies.
Pandya got the first breakthrough with the all-important wicket of opener David Warner, who was bowled for 42.
"I thought we set it up beautifully with the bat to launch at the back end, but I thought the Indian bowlers executed really well and we executed poorly," said Smith.
"We couldn't get the boundaries. 330+ might have been a different result, but credit to India. Hardik was magnificent and Rohit and Jinks (Rahane) were fabulous too.
"I thought Finchy was magnificent, it was a great hundred. The pitch was pretty much the same for both teams until 35 overs, it did slow down towards the end," he added.
India have jumped to the top of the ODI rankings for now, overtaking Australia and South Africa, but can still slip to the number-two spot if the visitors win the next two games.
The fourth ODI is scheduled for Thursday in Bangalore.