Cook backed to bounce back in time to cement Ashes tour spot

England national selector Geoff Miller remains 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 out-of-form opener Cook when they broke with recent protocol by naming not just a squad but their unchanged team, three days in advance, to face Pakistan in the third npower Test at The Oval.

The reasoning is that England, 2-0 up with two to play, are on a roll and have no need to drop anyone.

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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 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 unsurprising 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 said: "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."

Miller confirmed 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. "We have created momentum. We have won six games on the trot, so we feel it is the right way to stick with a winning team," he said.

"We weren't tempted. We're happy with the attack we've got, so we didn't look at a second spinner."

Conjecture will, therefore, remain for several weeks yet as to who is next in the pecking order behind Graeme Swann, and therefore in line to fly to Australia this winter as the extra spinner.

James Tredwell was in Bangladesh, but provides no variety to Swann's off-spin, Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid was in South Africa last winter, and is having an effective season for his county, while Monty Panesar appears to have benefited from his move south to Sussex.

Miller was giving no clues.

"We don't announce in public who is the next in line," he said.

"But they know who they are – we're in constant communication with those players."

Pakistan batsman Mohammad Yousuf has admitted he is not even close to being match-fit ahead of the third Test.

Yousuf was unable to add to his overnight score of 40 at Worcester on Saturday as play was washed out on the second and final day of the warm-up match at New Road.

And the 35-year-old said that missing out on the chance to play himself into prime form had been a blow.

"I would have wanted some valuable time in the middle today," he said. "To get some practice and also it would have boosted my match fitness.

"However it wasn't meant to be and there's nothing I can do about it."

"The fitness levels you maintain when playing first-class cricket are entirely different to the levels of fitness you maintain when playing a few local club matches as I was in Lahore before arriving in England.

"If I'm being honest, I am not entirely Test match-fit, but I will utilise my experience as my country needs me."

Yousuf was recalled to the tourists' squad ahead of the second Test at Edgbaston, but visa issues meant he only arrived just in time for the game and he was left out of the side.

His experience could prove to be an important factor for a Pakistani batting line-up that has struggled during the series, recording record low totals against England of 80 and 72.

But the veteran admits any hopes of an improvement may rest on the condition of the pitch at The Oval.