Cook gets back in the swing ahead of third Pakistan Test

England go into this week's third npower Test against Pakistan at the Brit Oval at the top of their game and confidence - and will draw further encouragement from the beginnings of a return to form for vice-captain Alastair Cook.

All the talk ahead of today's squad announcement surrounds Cook's place at the top of the order, with the left-hander so far the one England player unable to capitalise against a fragile Pakistan side.

Wins by 354 runs and then nine wickets have put England in command of the four-match series, but Cook has contributed scores of just eight and 12 at Trent Bridge and 17 and four at Edgbaston.

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His wretched run of form - 100 runs in seven knocks across the international summer - manifested itself in some early nerves during the Friends Provident T20 semi-final against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl.

He essayed a hideous and uncharacteristic cross-batted slog at a short ball from Dominic Cork, bringing a familiar grin to the face of the wily veteran, before almost losing his wicket after setting off over-enthusiastically for a second run in a mix-up between the wickets with opening partner Mark Pettini.

But his confidence appeared to return from the moment he stepped forward and across to pick up an Abdul Razzaq half-volley over wide mid-on for four - the trademark shot, and footwork, of a confident Cook. Two savage pulls off Dan Christian and a sublimely-timed repeat for six in Razzaq's next over reinforced that belief, before he deposited Christian over mid-wicket for another maximum.

Even his dismissal later in the same over came from a shot illustrative of the more positive mindset which brought him a rapid-fire 38.

He will now be expected to take that into the five-day arena - though Mohammads Aamer and Asif will provide a significantly stiffer test than compatriot Razzaq and Christian.

The new-ball duo have shone amid the tourists' otherwise shambolic displays in the series to date and have taken Cook's wicket twice apiece.

But he will expect to keep his place - particularly with Ian Bell's injury easing the pressure on the top order - and if he can survive the early examination this time around then he will hope to thrive, not least as Pakistan's first-change man Umar Gul has been ruled out by a hamstring injury.Another concern for the tourists will be wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider's fitness after a finger injury resurfaced during this week's warm-up match against Worcestershire.

His absence would mean an earlier than anticipated recall for the gaffe-prone Kamran Akmal - and also, remarkably, see Pakistan deprived of their two highest-scoring batsmen this series, Haider's solitary scoring innings of 88 lifting him one ahead of Gul in the improbable standings.

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Possible England squad for third npower Test against Pakistan at the Brit Oval, starting Wednesday: AJ Strauss (c), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior, GP Swann, SCJ Broad, JM Anderson, ST Finn, A Shahzad.