Cape Town - First Test man-of-the-match Vernon Philander says that suggestions last year that he was unfit motivated him to work harder behind the scenes.
With the Proteas going down 3-1 in a four-match Test series to England in August last year, Philander's overall fitness and conditioning was questioned by Proteas captain Faf du Plessis as well as former captain Graeme Smith.
Philander picked up a hand injury in the first Test at Lord's and then missed the final Test with a back strain at Old Trafford.
Du Plessis challenged Philander after that series to work on his fitness ahead of 2018's assignments against India and Australia, and on Monday at Newlands 'Big Vern' produced his best figures in Test cricket so far (6/42) to fire the Proteas to a 72-run victory against India and silence his critics.
Du Plessis was full of praise for Philander after the match, saying that he was most impressed by the hunger the 32-year-old showed when the Proteas needed somebody to stand up and be counted.
"I like people to be constructive and open and honest with us as players," Philander said of the criticism he received last year.
"There are two ways of facing it: You can take it personally and fade away or you can take it on board and actually make a play and come back stronger.
"I took it a bit personally up front, but we’re all obviously human at the end of the day. I put it aside as quickly as possible and tried to do the work behind the scenes to come back strong."
And come back strong he did.
With Dale Steyn injured for the Indian second innings, Philander stood tall in a depleted South African attack.
He took the last three wickets of the innings in just four balls, but before then there were some nervy moments for the hosts as Ravichandran Ashwin (37) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (13*) started edging closer to the total after tea.
It took a moment of magic from Quinton de Kock, standing up to the stumps off Philander, to produce a neat catch to dismiss Ashwin and get the Proteas on the front foot again.
"You have to be open to those suggestions and I’ll give this one to Faf," Philander said of the decision to bring De Kock up to the stumps.
"Ashwin at the time was batting far out of his crease and the wicket was a touch on the slow side. I felt that pushing him back would give all three dismissals back in play.
"You just have to remain calm. We had it in our arsenal to get those last three wickets. The team with the calm head comes out on top."
The second Test at Centurion gets underway on Saturday.