Ravichandran Ashwin may have had a roller-coaster ride in international cricket of late but for Sachin Tendulkar, the senior off-spinner remains "an integral part of the national set-up".
Ashwin, who has an impressive Test record with 342 wickets from 65 matches, lost his place in the playing XI to Ravindra Jadeja when it came to playing outside the Indian sub-continent.
The 33-year-old will start afresh when he dons the national colours after 10 months against the Proteas in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday.
"Ashwin is one of the leading bowlers. And he has done well not with just the ball but also contributed by scoring crucial runs. So, I think he is an integral part of this Indian team without any doubt," Tendulkar told PTI during an exclusive interaction.
The senior off-spinner has had his share of injuries and occasional slump in form while playing abroad but Tendulkar feels that while judging Ashwin, his overall impact during all these years should be factored in.
"I think ups and downs are going to be there in everyone's career. Ashwin has been around for a long time and has done well, shown consistency. Ashwin for me remains one of the most important players in this Indian set-up," said world's top run-getter in Tests and ODI cricket.
On the upcoming three-match series, Tendulkar termed India as favourites but warned that it will be far from a cakewalk as far as the home team is concerned.
"Obviously, India start as favourites. However if we think that this series will be cakewalk, then we are mistaken. But yes, for South Africa to make a match of it, they will really have to bat well," said Tendulkar.