When the Indian team was looking for an all-rounder in Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and R. Ashwin, it was the low-profile leg-spinner from Haryana, Amit Mishra, who finished the Sri Lanka Test series with over 150 runs and 15 wickets. Those figures are more remarkable than they look; no Indian player has managed it in a three-match series before Mishra.

When the South African team visits India for its longest ever tour of the country, starting 29 September, Mishra could be India’s unlikely trump card. At 32, he remains one of the best spinners around, though he has often been neglected for the national squad in favour of younger, more experimental squads.

In an interview at his home in New Delhi’s West Patel Nagar, Mishra spoke of his performances and the state of spin bowling. Edited excerpts:

Were you under pressure before the Sri Lanka series since it was another comeback in international cricket for you?

I was coming back to the Test team after a gap of four years so I was a bit nervous, but I was also confident since I had been doing well in domestic cricket. It is a matter of immense pride that I also played my part in India winning a Test series in Sri Lanka after 22 years.

Honestly, did you really hope for one more comeback in Test cricket? Were you surprised to get a recall?

Not really. I wasn’t surprised because the selectors and seniors used to tell me that I was always in the mix. I was never told by anybody that I would not play for India again. Before the Test series, I had gone to play against Australia A and Rahul Dravid (India A coach) told me that I was included in that squad because the (India) team was looking for an attacking option in Lanka and wanted to test me out.

Did it also help you that Test captain Virat Kohli comes from Delhi, where you have played a lot of cricket with him?

Virat knew that I was an attacking option and also could play the role of a “container" if needed. Maybe he was just looking for someone like me and he allowed me to be myself. He gave me the freedom to bowl according to my strength and plan. Even when I was going for a few runs, he would encourage me to be attacking and not worry about runs (being conceded).

Ashwin got more wickets than you. Is there any rivalry between you?

We are not competitors. We help each other by bowling in tandem. Sometimes he would build up pressure from one end, I would get wickets from the other, and vice versa. We have a great understanding and we communicate a lot. Generally, it is tougher for any batsmen to handle a leg-spinner and an off-spinner together when both of them want to take wickets.

There is an ongoing debate on the dying art of leg spin. Do you think your art will survive the onslaught of Twenty20 (T20) cricket?

I don’t agree with the suggestions that the art of leg spin is in danger. Of course, you need to have quality spinners. And blaming the T20 format is also unfair. As much as I love playing an attacking game in Test cricket, I have to adjust according to the demands of other formats. In T20, dot balls are equally vital and also play their part in winning matches.

But there are no dominant leg-spinners now, no one like Shane Warne, Anil Kumble or Mushtaq Ahmed.

(Laughs) It’s unfair to compare eras. Cricket is too great a game and will not stop because there is not a great leg-spinner around. There is always a possibility of someone emerging from somewhere.

Will the South Africa series be even tougher considering their batting line-up?

Are there are any easy challenges in international cricket? Sri Lanka wasn’t easy. We won after a gap of 22 years there. Attacking stroke players like A.B. de Villiers and (Hashim) Amla are always challenging but that also provides a great opportunity to make our mark against such a formidable side.

Your story is all about being patient, never giving up, no matter how cricket treats you. How do you keep yourself motivated?

What option do I have? You need to always back yourself or how will someone else believe in you? I am not bitter with anyone. Rather, I consider myself fortunate that HCA (the Haryana Cricket Association), BCCI (the Board of Control for Cricket in India) and Indian selectors have been always with me. I am thankful to them that they picked me every time I did well on the domestic circuit.

There is a theory that this team of Indian batsmen is suspect against quality spin bowling. Your take?

Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit (Sharma), (Cheteshwar) Pujara...they all are quality players and have come to the national side after scoring heavily in domestic cricket, where they have confronted quality spin. I never had it easy against them even though I bowl at them in the nets only. Kohli and Rohit have all kinds of shots. They are all ready to tackle any kind of bowling.

Vimal Kumar is the author of The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide and Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century.