Before Cape Town Ravichandran Ashwin was not India’s first-choice spinner, overseas. He was not supposed to play in the first Test at Newlands either. Ashwin only played, just because Ravindra Jadeja was no fit. That wicket had absolutely nothing for a spinner. He bowled only 8.1 overs in the entire match but in those 49 deliveries, he had a far bigger impact, than his previous Test outing in South Africa back in 2013, in which he bowled 42 wicketless overs.

Meanwhile, following his all-round effort in Cape Town (2 for 24 as well as 12 and 37 with bat) Ashwin earned his place for the Centurion Test. He has been picked in the playing eleven ahead of a fit Jadeja and so far in the match, the decision has turned out to be fruitful.

Here, in a slightly helpful condition, Ashwin has looked the best Indian bowler. In South Africa’s first innings, when fast bowlers were out of ideas of how to tackle the host’s power-packed batting on a slow wicket, being a lone spinner, he put his hands up and bowled long spells. And he seemed like the only bowler, who was having an impact on the Proteas.

Ashwin finished the innings with figures of 4 for 113 — by far one of his best away performances, if not the best. Not only that, when his team needed him to contribute with bat, the Chennai boy chipped in with a handy 38 and shared an important 71-run seventh wicket stand with Virat Kohli.

Like Hardik Pandya’s innings brought India back in the equation in Cape Town, here in Centurion, Ashwin has played that all-rounder’s role to keep his team in the hunt.

At 31, Ashwin is going through an interesting phase of his career. Despite being fasted to 300 Test wickets and all his achievements in the five-day version, currently, he is out of favour from India’s limited-overs teams. Even in red-ball cricket, overseas he still has a lot to prove. He doesn't have great statistics in South Africa, England, and Australia. But, rarely in these countries, he got conditions which favoured his kind of bowling.

However, here in Centurion, when he has finally got one, the off-spinner showed his value, which shows that Ashwin has come a long way since the 2013 Johannesburg debacle.

"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 actually set up for a spinner," Ashwin recently said during a media interaction. "It was a hit on my professional pride, and from there on I knew I had to work on certain things. Obviously, if you don't take wickets you don't get bull-headed and believe things will get better from next time.”

Of late, it has been noticed that Ashwin has made some significant improvements in his bowling. These days, he has brought the patience factor in his game. Being away from the white-ball formats has also given him the time to develop his skills as a longer format bowler. Unlike the Ashwin of 2013, now-a-days you won’t see him bowling a lot of variations in an over, especially on a slow wicket like Centurion. Instead, he has acquired the maturity to play with the patience of the batsman. His county stint in England has a lot to do with that.

"I worked on making my action a lot more repeatable and I worked on the wrist position at time of release and also added a few things to my repertoire and used my wrist a lot more when I bowl and used my palm more when I bowl the floater. Obviously, these things have combined over the last few years. I have had a great time over the last two-three years. I am just taking the confidence forward, and I am trying to get better as the day goes and by the end of this series I will be a far better bowler than what I started,” Ashwin mentioned while explaining why he thinks he is an improved bowler now.

"My first-class team-mates there [In Worcestershire] would advise that I have to develop a lot of patience, and hearing those things from them was definitely a reality check for me. Yeah, I have gone through a massive ride over the last eight months, and I am in a phase of life where I really want to enjoy my cricket,” he added further.

In his own admission, at present Ashwin is having “one of the most relaxed” phases of his cricket career. For any cricketer, it is very important to enjoy the game, in order to feature at the highest level for a longer period of time. Well, it seems Ashwin is certainly doing that. Let’s hope in India’s ongoing touring cycle, he achieves the much-eluded overseas success.