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India fans key to Test series victory for England says Steven Finn

Winning over the crowds is a key tenet for success in India. So says Steven Finn, a man who was part of the last squad to go there and emerge with a series victory, back in 2012.

England travel to India on Sunday dreaming of replicating that effort, which remains one of the team’s most remarkable triumphs in their history. A feat of planning and execution from head coach Andy Flower and newly appointed skipper Alastair Cook, the tourists overcame defeat in the first Test to win 2-1, thanks largely to spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. India have won all 16 home series since.

While England’s current squad may lack world-class spin options, the group under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes is underpinned by a healthy mix of confidence and an open mind. Since the duo came together, England have not lost a series, winning 13 of 19 Tests, all while staying true to an attacking approach.

It is the latter Finn believes could be key to England’s fortunes over the next eight weeks in what will be their most challenging assignment. The recently retired quick played one Test in the 2012 series – the penultimate match in Kolkata, which England won by seven wickets to go 2-1 in front – but saw first-hand how the popularity of the team grew among the home fans.

With plenty of household names in the touring party, especially the five (Stokes, Joe Root, Mark Wood, Jonny Bairstow and Harry Brook) with recent Indian Premier League experience, Finn anticipates they could pick up admirers, and even turn a passionate fan base against their own team, if they are at their entertaining best.

“I think the IPL superstardom of some of the players will count to England’s benefit,” says Finn. “Kevin Pietersen aside, that 2012 team, people weren’t really superstars in India, whereas you have quite a few guys this time going over who have played in the IPL and are superstars in that. I think that will count.

“The three most memorable tours I went on, India 2012, Australia 2010-11 and South Africa 2016, all three of them, one of the motivations for us was to try and get the opposition public on side and turn them against their own team. That’s a huge benefit to you, and having Stokes and McCullum at the helm gives England an opportunity to do that.

“If they play well and give a good account of themselves, as the series goes on that tide can turn, because we know how polarising the Indian cricket team can be to their public depending on how they are playing.”

Finn also backed James Anderson to put a difficult Ashes series behind him and rediscover his touch after taking just five wickets at 85.40 last summer. At 41, an uncharacteristically poor home season left many wondering if this was finally the end of the road for Test cricket’s third-highest wicket-taker.

Anderson boasts an impressive record in India, taking his 34 wickets at 29.32, with 12 of them coming on that 2012 tour. And ahead of Anderson’s sixth tour of India, Finn, who made 27 of his 36 caps alongside Anderson, feels he remains vital to England’s hopes.

“Jimmy is superhuman. People have been anticipating he will retire for about seven years now and he keeps surprising people and performing. He didn’t have a fantastic summer last year, but I know from knowing him as a character that he wouldn’t be doing this unless he felt he could make a difference.

“I think a determined Jimmy Anderson well-managed is someone who will be important to England, especially making the most of the reverse swing because he is an absolute master at that. He would have worked on his fitness, he would have trained hard, he has got the skills and has got the experience so I anticipate when he plays, he’ll be an important cog.”

As far as cues from 2012, Finn offers the second Test in Mumbai, which England won by 10 wickets to square the series, as the ideal blueprint. Specifically the manner of England’s first-innings lead of 86 after India posted 327 .

Cook ground out 122 from 270 balls before a remarkable Pietersen knock of 186, at a strike rate of 79.82 took England to 413. Panesar then took 6 for 42, supplemented by 4 for 43 from Swann, leaving a target of 57 that Cook and Nick Compton polished off within 10 overs.

“Cook ground them down and then Pietersen came out and played this knock and everyone was like, ‘oh my word, we’re going to win this series’. That was the moment we all realised.

“I think England can take some of the motivation from the way that affected the way India played and try to take that into this series, but it has to be a measured aggression. If you go 100 percent aggression from the beginning, I think you can become unstuck. But if you’ve given yourself a chance and then assert pressure back on India, that could serve England well.”

Steven Finn was speaking via IG which has renewed its partnership with the ECB for a further three years. Through the Net Gains Fund, IG and the ECB will commit £1 million towards initiatives in under-served communities by 2027

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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