Geoff Miller, England's national selector, is confident Alastair Cook will battle through what he concedes is probably the most difficult stage of his career so far. Miller and his colleagues unsurprisingly stuck with the out-of-form opener when they broke with recent protocol yesterday by naming not just a squad but their unchanged team, three days in advance, to face Pakistan in the third Test at The Oval in London.
The reasoning is that England, 2-0 up with two to play, are on a roll and have no need to drop anyone. After Kevin Pietersen's return to productivity with an important if scratchy first-innings half-century at Edgbaston last week, only Cook's position was in the slightest doubt - and even then, no one seriously expected England to lose faith in their vice-captain at this stage. It would, in fact, be especially inconvenient to be forced into taking him out of the firing line at the top of the order with the Ashes tour of Australia less than three months away.
Cook has long been identified as a front-runner to be Andrew Strauss's eventual successor as captain, and duly deputised for him in the successful Test and one-day international series in Bangladesh last spring. It is also true to say that, for all England's strength in depth in other departments, contenders to provide cover for Strauss and Cook at the top of the order are less obvious. In the circumstances, it was not surprising to hear Miller say: "We back Alastair to come through this tough patch he is having."
Asked if the 25-year-old left-hander's return of 100 runs from his last seven Test innings represents the toughest challenge of his career, Miller told Sky Sports News: "It probably is. It is a challenging time for him. "But we know what he is like as a character. He is a battler and will battle his way through it. "He scored runs in Bangladesh - that is not so long ago - and we know full well how hard he will try and how determined he is to cross this bridge. He will do it, I am sure."
England appear, meanwhile, to have booked Tim Bresnan in for some domestic air miles. The Yorkshire seamer is not in an official 12-man squad but will take a break from the four-day English County Championship match due to start at Durham tomorrow to provide cover for the England attack in London, and then return to the north east of England to complete his club's fixture. Miller said the selectors were never tempted to bring a second spinner into their squad, at a venue where slow bowlers can prosper.
The message appears to be that there is no reason to over-complicate a winning formula, which has taken England to within two more successes of equalling their all-time best run of Test victories. * Press Association