England have point to prove - Finn
Steven Finn has said that England will head to India in search of a fresh start and eager to restate their credentials as one of the best Test sides in the world, after a difficult year in which they lost the No. 1 ranking, their captain and very nearly their star batsman.
A 2-0 defeat at home to South Africa led to England being deposed as the top-ranked team in Tests and precipitated Andrew Strauss' retirement from cricket, leaving Alastair Cook to assume the Test captaincy ahead of one of the most difficult touring propositions in the game. Finn is likely to be among those spending almost two months in India, with two T20Is to follow the Tests, as the squad departed for a training camp in Dubai before arriving in Mumbai on Monday.
England have not won a Test series in India since 1984-85 and struggled against subcontinental opposition last winter, being whitewashed 3-0 by Pakistan in the UAE and drawing 1-1 in Sri Lanka. England's victory in Colombo was only their fifth Test win in Asia, against countries other than Bangladesh, in 27 years but Finn said Cook's squad have a point to prove and invoked their landmark Ashes victory of 2010-11 by way of inspiration.
"It is almost a fresh start for us," Finn said, "the Test team hasn't played together since August so we've had a bit of time and we've got a new captain who will have his own ideas how he wants the team to move forward. There are a few fresh faces in the squad and I think we like proving people wrong. We like rearing our backs up in the face of adversity.
"It is something we're excited about, I don't think an England team have won out there for 27 years so we're looking to do a similar thing to what we did in Australia, by breaking those sort of records."
The tour is likely to provide Cook with plenty of challenges, not least brokering a successful return to the England environment for Kevin Pietersen, after a turbulent summer in which he retired from limited-overs internationals and was then dropped from the Test side after admitting sending messages about Strauss to members of the South Africa squad. The circle will be completed when Pietersen joins up with England, after his IPL team, Delhi Daredevils, were knocked out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage.
England have set much store by team unity in recent years but Finn said that he was looking forward to playing with Pietersen again. "He is a world class player and has produced some splendid innings that have won us games so I think it's great to have him back and good for English cricket," he said.
England's last win on the subcontinent, against Sri Lanka in April, was inspired by Pietersen's magnificent innings of 151 and knitting him back into the fabric of the team would appear to be essential to the tourists' chances in the four-Test series. While India will be seeking to avenge the 4-0 whitewashing they suffered in 2011, England also have plenty at stake.
"We have a massive point to prove," Finn said. "We have to prove to the general public, to the people who comment on the game and to people within the game. If we want to be the number one side in the world again and get that mantle back we have to be able to perform in subcontinental conditions.
"We have done a lot of work since we played Pakistan earlier this year, as a unit and as a team, developing skills that we will need in the subcontinent - playing against spin, using old balls on wickets that aren't doing much. We have done a lot of work to refine our game to become better in the subcontinent and hopefully that will bear fruit on this tour."
With England's problems against slow bowling in mind, four county spinners, in addition to squad members Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Samit Patel, will link up with the players in Dubai. James Tredwell, Scott Borthwick, Simon Kerrigan and Azeem Rafiq have been flown out to try and replicate the kind of tests the batsmen are likely to face in India, despite the lack of a spinner in the squad named for England's first warm-up match.
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Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo