'Opening the batting in Test cricket can be tough at times,' says Strauss

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The Independent Online

Alastair Cook can breathe easily about retaining his place for next week's third Test. The selectors do not meet until Friday, but Andrew Strauss has already given his opening partner a vote of confidence that will not be overturned.

Or at least he has at the second attempt. Having failed to reach 30 for the seventh consecutive Test innings this summer, it was probably just as well for Cook's blood pressure that he missed the England captain's media conference following yesterday's nine-wicket victory over Pakistan.

"I've got no confidence whatsoever that he will come back and play very well in the near future," said Strauss. Pardon? Fortunately for the normally fluent skipper, and Cook's peace of mind, man of the match Graeme Swann was present to un-tie Strauss's tongue.

"I've got no doubts that he will come back and play very well in the near future," said Strauss, correcting himself amid much laughter. But Cook's lack of success this season, against first Bangladesh and now Pakistan, is becoming a serious matter which will have to be addressed if the drought continues at The Oval and Lord's.

For now, though, Strauss's support is rock solid. "Opening the batting in Test cricket can be tough at times," said the captain. "If you are a bit down on confidence sometimes that can be exploited more than other areas in the batting line-up. But Alastair has played some outstanding innings for England in the past and he's a very valuable member of our side.

"I'm not a selector and they always pick the side. But he would have my full backing [for The Oval] because I honestly think a big score is just around the corner."

Strauss's team are on a roll with six straight Test victories behind them. But after brushing aside Bangladesh in two series and knocking over Pakistan at Trent Bridge, England ran into resistance at Edgbaston on Sunday – and struggled for a few hours.

"Sunday was a reminder that Test cricket is a tough game and you don't have everything your own way all the time – it doesn't matter how good you are, that's the case," said Strauss. "The pitch died a bit, we were forced to work very hard for those wickets and Pakistan came back well at us. It was a tough session, but we got through it and thankfully came out the other side."

Not without a nasty stain on Stuart Broad's character, however. As England's frustrations mounted on the third day, Broad hit Pakistan batsman Zulqarnain Haider with a petulant throw and was later fined around £3,000 by the match referee.

"Stuart understands he overstepped the mark and he has paid the price for it," said Strauss. "I don't think he meant to hit him but it didn't look good. But what I would say is that generally over the course of this summer he has been outstanding in terms of how he has gone about his business. He hasn't run into any trouble with the umpires and let's hope this is a one-off incident.

"You want aggressive characters in your dressing room, guys who want to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and have a bit of fight about them. It's always about managing where the boundaries are and making sure people don't overstep them."

Although England failed to match the standards they set in beating Pakistan at Trent Bridge, Swann will remember the Edgbaston game with fondness for many a year.

"That's probably the best I've bowled for England, certainly the first 10 or 15 overs," said the spinner who finished with six for 65 and moved up to third place in the world rankings for Test bowlers. A merry quip is never far away, though.

"I didn't realise I had slipped down the rankings," said Swann. "No, it's not something I look into to be honest. My mum follows it quite intently. But it's just stats and numbers."

Swann and Broad (Notts) and Cook (Essex) are all expected to play for their counties in Saturday's Twenty20 finals day. But Hampshire have already decided to manage without Kevin Pietersen, who is leaving them at the end of the season. They recently declined to include Pietersen in a 40-over match when he was looking for practice between Tests.