R Ashwin Virat Kohli India
India skipper Virat Kohli will know the importance of R Ashwin in the Test series against South AfricaReuters

The obvious player that India missed most in the ODI leg of the Freedom Series against South Africa was the offspinner R Ashwin. After picking up a side strain in the first one-day international, Ashwin was forced to sit out the rest of the series, as India suffered a 3-2 defeat in the five-match blockbuster, with the deciding loss coming via an avalanche of runs against their bowlers.

If Ashwin would have been able to stop the run glut in that 5th ODI in Mumbai or not is up for debate, but what isn't is the fact that MS Dhoni certainly could have used the CSK man's guile, experience and ability to take wickets.

You never know, had Ashwin been there, maybe Quinton de Kock and Faf Du Plessis would not have been able to put on that big partnership, which in turn would not have given AB De Villiers the license to go slam-bang like only he can.

All conjecture, of course, but if India are going to beat the No.1 ranked Test team in the world – and they are that by some distance as well – they need Ashwin fit and ready.

It is difficult to imagine the likes of Amit Mishra, Ravindra Jadeja and the faster bowlers knocking over 20 South Africa wickets in a Test match, without any help from Ashwin, making the offspinner's presence utterly vital.

So, happy days then that Ashwin believes he is on course to be fit for the first Test match in Mohali, which begins a week from now.

"I'm close to full fitness and I'm confident of bowling well in the Test series," PTI quoted Ashwin as saying at a promotional event in his hometown Chennai.

Virat Kohli and the India team are coming off a pretty impressive series victory in Sri Lanka, but this South Africa contest was always going to be the big test.

Kohli, as good a batsman as he is and as good a captain-in-the-making he is, will know the series victory against South Africa will hinge largely on Ashwin's form – also making wickets suited to India's strengths will help, rather than flat and hard pitches like the one in Mumbai (but that is for another time) – because everyone knows, if the ball turns, Ashwin will pose a massive threat.

Apart from the wickets, Ashwin also gives the rest of the bowlers some confidence. You feel one of the reasons Amit Mishra bowled so well in Sri Lanka was because he was given encouragement by the manner in which Ashwin was dominating the batsmen, and when one bowler is at the top of his game, it rubs off on the rest of the bowlers.

Ashwin is definitely at the top of his game, and for the rest to be right up there with him, he needs to go out there in the whites and be able to perform to the best of his ability.

So, from India's perspective – that pesky side strain, please heal.

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