England are confident Andrew Flintoff will be fit enough to travel on this winter's Ashes tour but remain concerned about his lack of match practice for such a major series.
The key all-rounder is booked in for a second operation on his left ankle early this week which will rule him out for three months, sidelining him for the rest of this summer and making him a major doubt for the Champions' Trophy tournament in India in October.
The news of his surgery, which follows an operation in January last year, was immediately followed by pessimistic predictions that Flintoff would be a major doubt for England's defence of the Ashes.
But England are optimistic about their chances of having the inspirational Flintoff on the plane for Australia, even if he does face a race to regain match fitness for the first Test match in Brisbane starting on November 23.
"He will have surgery early next week and them embark on the rehabilitation," David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said. "It will be a tight call but the way Freddie applied himself to his rehab over the past five weeks I am confident he will be ready to go to Australia."
With the tour of Australia starting with a oneday match against the Prime Minister's XI in Canberra on November 10, it gives the 28-year-old Lancastrian exactly 16 weeks to complete his rehabilitation if he is to be in England's team for the tour opener.
England may arrange matches overseas for Flintoff and other injured Ashes heroes Ashley Giles (hip) and Simon Jones (knee), who are serious doubts for the winter challenge because they have yet
to play a match this summer.
England are considering approaching former Hampshire batsman Paul Terry, who has a coaching Academy in Perth, to see if he can arrange some practice matches but Graveney said a throwaway remark about approaching Cricket Australia for assistance was no more than "mischievous."
He said: "I was being a little mischievous when I said that, but there a couple of areas we may look at. We know Paul Terry has a set-up in Perth and we could look at setting up matches in India."
On the previous tour to Australia four years ago Flintoff and Darren Gough, who were recovering from injuries, were selected in the original squad but failed to play in the series. "The last trip to Australia was shambolic,"
Graveney said. "'Freddie' arrived at the Academy in Adelaide and he could hardly walk, let alone bowl. Regrettably we may be heading
for the same situation to a degree. We might have a number of guys going there that are physically fit but not match fit.
"I believe Flintoff will be physically fit. What we have to do with 'Freddie' and Ashley, because he's making positive noises as well, we've got to arrange enough cricket for them so they are running when they actually get there for the first Test on November 23."
The selectors also have a desperate need to find some momentum this summer. Middlesex batsman Andrew Strauss, who led England during the drawn opening Test against Pakistan at Lord's in Flintoff's absence, will be captain for the remainder of the npower series. He is also favourite to be be captain for the Twenty20 international and one-day series but the selectors will not rubber-stamp that appointment until after the Tests.