Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took three wickets to give India the edge after the first day of the second Test against South Africa at Supersport Park on Saturday.
Just over three years ago, Ashwin endured one of the worst episodes of his career when he went wicketless against South Africa and was dropped for the following Test.
But on Saturday he went some way towards redemption as his three for 90 from 31 overs enabled India to restrict the hosts to 269 for six.
Two run-outs also helped keep India in the game after Aiden Markram made 94 and Hashim Amla hit 82 to set South Africa up for what had seemed likely to be a big total.
In 2013/14, at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, some 50km away, Ashwin suffered a major career setback.
India set South Africa 458 to win with more than a day to bowl them out. Not only did they fail to do that, but the Proteas got within eight runs of what would have been a world record chase.
“It was a reality check in terms of not being able to win a Test match for the country on day five when all things were set up for a spinner,” said Ashwin, who went wicketless in 36 overs that day.
“It hit on my professional pride and from then on I knew I had to work on certain things.”
Ashwin was dropped for the next match, which India lost, and it took a while for the selectors to trust him in Tests outside India.
“I worked on making my action a lot more repeatable, I worked on my wrist action at the point of release,” the 31-year-old added.
“I ironed out a few things, used my wrist a lot more when I delivered the ball, used my palm when I bowled the floater.”
In 38 Tests since then, Ashwin has taken 205 wickets at an average of 23.82, proving himself one of the best spin bowlers in the history of the game.
Contrary to expectations, there was no assistance for the fast bowlers on an easy-paced pitch. There wasn’t all that much for Ashwin, either, but he plugged away.
“There was a bit of spin in the morning. It was a bit damp but very slow. It did spin a bit but it was not outrageous.”
Pandya’s magic moment
South Africa had been cruising at 246 for three when two run-outs and Ashwin’s third wicket brought a dramatic change, sparked by an outstanding piece of fielding by Hardik Pandya, who ran out Amla.
Amla played a ball from Pandya to the on-side and was called for a sharp single by captain Faf du Plessis.
Amla, on his back foot, was slow to start and Pandya raced to pick up the ball, turned and threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end.
“There was some extraordinary work by Hardik and a bit of luck for us,” said Ashwin. “It could be a very good batting day tomorrow.”
Markram, playing in his fifth Test, looked set for a third century to go with hundreds he made against the modest opposition of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
He struck the ball with authority, particularly off the back foot, before he tried to guide a ball from Ashwin towards third man and was caught behind by Parthiv Patel.
In addition to his two centuries, he has now been out twice in the nineties. “It was a bit of a nothing shot, I am still not over it,” he admitted.
There was some consolation when Indian captain Virat Kohli ran across to congratulate South Africa’s rising star.
“He just said ‘well played’ and that I was unlucky to get out. It was a great gesture and it did mean a lot,” Markram said.