India play South Africa at Durban tomorrow, in what promises to be the most important Test Match India have played since Multan 2004. They go into an overseas Test Match, one up in the series. The last time this happened, at Melbourne on boxing day in 2004, they lost the Melbourne Test and could not win at Sydney.
The Indian selectors have made some refreshing choices ahead of the game. Rahul Dravid spoke with his usual candor at the press briefing, and the selectors have directed Irfan Pathan to return to India and play Ranji Trophy games instead of spending time on tour, where he is unlikely to play a lot of cricket over the next 2 weeks. This is the first time that this has happened for form related reasons in an overseas tour. It is probably the best thing that could have happened to Irfan. One just hopes that he will recieve good advice from the Baroda team management.
Durban has been a South African fortress, which only Australia have breached successfully in recent times. If India come through Durban with a win or with at least a draw, it will have marked not only an important shift in India's form overseas, but will also mark a realignment of cricketing power, away from South Africa towards the sub-continent and England. It is fast becoming clear, that England are the South Africa of the 1990's as far as Test cricket goes. An Indian win in South Africa will confirm this shift.
The nature of Indias victories overseas has also changed over time. While the big batting guns are still firing at crucial times (Tendulkar 44, Laxman 73, Ganguly 51, Dravid 2 fifties at Jamaica), it is the bowling which has been the driving force between Indias recent overseas Test wins. The return of Munaf Patel, who has been the best Indian Test bowler in the last 12 months or so, is something to look forward to. He will in all probability replace VRV Singh, if fitness permits.
All in all, plenty to look forward to. India have done well up to this point. Let's hope they can finish the job...