Ashley Giles' participation in England's tour of India next month was left in serious doubt last night afer it was confirmed his recovery from hip surgery was slower than expected. It will be a significant blow to lose such a key player.
David Graveney, chairman of selectors, already seemed to be fearing the worst and said England would sorely miss the symbol of the side.
England face an anxious wait on the No 1 spinner's availability for the nine-week tour which begins on February 12. Giles, 32, is behind schedule in his rehabilitation following the operationg last month and was referred back to a specialist by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
The ECB's chief medical officer Dr Peter Gregory will now assess the findings of the Warwickshire player's medical update in the next couple of days before advising on his participation or otherwise.
"If he cannot tour it would be a big loss to us," said Graveney. "But that is sport.
"If you had to pick one person to epitomise the spirit of the team it would be Ashley.
His role, both within the side and the dressing room, should not be underestimated."
Giles is key to the England team as much for his fielding as his bowling. Although the left-arm spin bowler has failed to claim four wickets in an innings in any of his last 14 Test matches, and averages only two victims per appearance in that 18-month period, he has been an integral member of Michael Vaughan's successful side.
"His figures may not always look as good as some of the other spinners around the world but he fulfils a crucial role in our attack," insisted Graveney.
"And it is not only his work with the ball: there are the catches he takes in the gully and the vital runs he scores at number eight."
Giles played through the discomfort his hip was causing in the opening matches in Pakistan but finally succumbed prior to the third Test and opted for surgery at the Wellington Hospital in London on December 7, a date it was hoped would allow enough recovery time ahead of the Indian leg of the winter.
A piece of floating bone and a bone growth were removed from his right hip. A cartilage tear was also repaired during the operation.
Captain Vaughan and fast bowler Simon Jones are also recovering from operations in England's quest to be at full strength against India, with the sides playing for second place in the ICC Test rankings.
But Giles has not made the progress he might have hoped for when he underwent the knife seven weeks ago; although he has begun a relatively intense fitness programme, he did not turn his arm over as planned last week.
"There has been a setback and Ashley has not been able to resume bowling," confirmed an ECB spokesman.
"He saw a specialist in London yesterday and the findings of that meeting have been passed on to us.
"Peter Gregory now needs time to digest the findings of the report."
England were due to name a third spinner for the tour in the near future regardless but may now put that on hold for longer given Giles' situation.
An alternative course, however, would be to reveal the identity of the additional slow-bowling pick - fellow left-armers Ian Blackwell and Monty Panesar are the most likely beneficiaries - and allow Giles some extra time to recuperate ahead of the first of three Tests, which begins in Nagpur on March 1.
That would be a familiar scenario for Giles, who missed the opening Test of the previous tour to the Indian subcontinent four years ago with an Achilles injury, before adding control to the attack in Ahmedabad and Bangalore.
The 15-man party are to come together for the first time next Monday at a twoday fitness camp at the national academy in Loughborough.