Chennai - Skipper Virat Kohli hailed Hardik Pandya's
game-changing performance on Sunday after the all-rounder powered India to a 26-run
win over Australia in the rain-hit first one-day international.
Pandya smashed a 66-ball 83 and claimed two wickets to give
the hosts a 1-0 lead in the five-match series at Chennai's MA Chidambaram
Chasing a revised target of 164 in 21 overs after rain
delays, Australia were frustrated by wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and
Kuldeep Yadav who shared five wickets between them. They ended on 137-9.
But it was Pandya's gritty 118-run sixth-wicket stand with
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who made 79, that lifted India from a top-order collapse
to 281-7 in 50 overs.
"He (Hardik) believes in himself. That is the key in
international cricket. Hardik's innings was the game-changer. He is smart with
the ball as well," said Kohli.
"He possesses all three skills (batting, bowling and
fielding) equally and we are lucky to have him," Kohli added.
In reply, the visitors had to wait for two hours to start
their shortened chase as constant drizzle threatened to spoil the contest.
Pacemen Jasprit Bumrah and Pandya combined to hurt
Australia's hopes of reaching a tricky target with three early strikes
including skipper Steve Smith for one.
Bumrah bowled debutant opener Hilton Cartwright for one. He
then took a stunning high catch at short fine-leg to send Smith trudging back
to the pavilion off Pandya.
Left-arm wrist spinner Yadav also joined the party after
getting star opener David Warner caught behind for 25 as Australia's innings
"I think 160 with one new ball would have made things a
lot easier. When you have two new balls from both ends, as we saw throughout
the game it was a new-ball wicket," Smith told reporters.
"They found it hard. Was the same for us. When you are
playing 20 overs you don't have great deal of time to make things up...it was
difficult in that aspect," he added.
Glenn Maxwell tried to raise Australia's hopes with his
18-ball 39, including three fours and four sixes, but Chahal cut short the
Leg-spinner Chahal ended with three wickets in his five
overs. Pandya and Yadav took two each.
Earlier Australian fast bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile had made
an impact with three wickets including the prized scalp of Virat Kohli for
Coulter-Nile, who returned after a string of injuries that
kept him out since June 2016, put India in early trouble at 11-3.
Rohit Sharma, who made 28, and Kedar Jadhav, who scored 40,
tried to rebuild with their 53-run partnership before Marcus Stoinis sent the
two batsmen back in the pavilion.
Dhoni, who has captained the successful Chennai franchise in
the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, then made his innings count
along with Pandya for company.
"We weren't able to capitalise on a good start. MS and
Hardik played very well. Their partnership certainly changed the game, proved
to be match-winning," Smith said.
"We started very well with the new ball and that's a
positive for us....and today we bowled to the conditions and got the ball in
the right areas," he added.
The duo thwarted the Australian bowling with some stubborn
batting before Pandya let loose to take the attack to the opposition.
Pandya took a special liking to Adam Zampa's leg-spin as he
smashed the bowler for a four and three successive sixes in an over to bring up
his third ODI fifty.
Zampa though did get Pandya out for his only wicket in the
innings. But the bowler's 10 overs cost his side 66 runs.
Dhoni soon took over to blast some vital runs in the last
five overs as he added 72 runs with number-eight Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who
finished unbeaten on 32.
The two teams now head to Kolkata's iconic Eden Gardens for
the second ODI on Thursday.