Playing his first Test in close to a year, R Ashwin marked his return with a five-wicket haul AFP

Despite being sidelined from the Indian Test eleven for close to 12 months, it was just another day in the office for R Ashwin in the Vizag Test as he marked his return with a five-wicket haul on Day 3. Calling it a tough period not being selected in the playing eleven, Ashwin, who gave up watching the game on TV as it gave him a constant feeling of "missing out", expressed his delight at being back in the Indian side.

"To stay away from playing cricket itself is very tough for me. In order to substitute that, I played whatever games I got. I tried and made an opportunity for myself to go and play some county cricket. I tried and played the TNPL as much as I could, played some league cricket in Chennai. It was very important for me to tick those numbers off because that is essentially where I came from. Going back and playing there is probably the best thing that could have happened for me," said Ashwin, as he recalled the period away from the Indian side before adding that his performance in the game was reflective of the happy frame of mind he is in.

"I am elated to be back. It is always special (playing) for India. There is nothing like picking up a five-wicket haul for your country. This place is very special for me. But I enjoyed a five-wicket haul for Nottingham too. One is not too lesser than the other. For me, it is about playing the game and I have realised that the joy of the game has to be back in my heart. I have made sure that I can enjoy the game wherever I go and play. That, I thought to an extent was quite visible when I played also. Most people who spoke to me said 'you looked really happy'. I don't know if it was guessing but I did feel genuinely happy to be back there and to be bowling again."

The time away from the team also gave Ashwin a fresh perspective of what he needed to do off the field - not think too much about the game and spend more time with his family and friends. "I felt that every time I watched the game on TV, I felt like I wanted to play the game and that I was missing out. It's very natural, everybody goes through it. But that's not the be all and end all. I tried to do a few other things in my life as well. My life has been all about cricket for the last 25 years, I don't know exactly. Just played the game with utmost passion. I thought my life, my family, my friends, everybody deserved a little bit more of my time.

"So I tried to spend a lot more time away from the game, tried to develop a lot more interests. I do have other interests which I discovered which is also a plus. I found that whenever I stepped back on to the park, it was a much more happier time for me. I did not fret too much about thinking the game or watching the game a lot but whenever I played I prepared to the best of my abilities," he added.

'A fierce competitor'

Meanwhile, Ashwin praised centurions Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock for batting well on what was "a proper Test match pitch". The 33-year-old, who ended the day with figures of 5-128, helped India end the day on a slightly better note after South Africa managed century partnerships for the fifth and sixth wickets.

"Whenever the ball spun, it spun from very far distances, not from the normal length. Elgar and de Kock batted really well, even Faf batted really well. We might have given them few too many runs in the morning session which probably gave them the momentum. You expect a good side to play the way they did. So credit has to be given where it needs to be given. We stuck at it pretty well and came back in the back half of the day. That is how Test cricket is supposed to be," said Ashwin, who said he enjoyed the challenge of bowling to Elgar.

"He has played well and we all know how good a player Dean Elgar is. Like I said, you expect people to come out and play you better. And that's part and parcel of the game and that's a challenge everybody looks forward to. I enjoyed the challenge and I thought he played some shots which I felt were like high-risk shots but he came out well with it. But there is a second innings, there is a few more innings in this series. With all due credit to Dean Elgar, he has scored runs around the globe and you expect nothing less than hundred per cent. He is a fierce competitor and I am very happy for him."