England's chances of Test success on their forthcoming tour of India were rocked last night after learning first-choice spinner Ashley Giles will not board the plane with the rest of the squad this Sunday.
A slower than anticipated recovery from hip surgery means Giles will not travel and standby spinner Ian Blackwell will replace the 32-year-old.
Although Warwickshire's Giles has not been ruled out of the entire nine-week tour, time is running out ahead of the three-match Test series, which begins in Nagpur on March 1.
He will continue his rehabilitation at Edgbaston and be reassessed in the coming weeks; the one-day series starts in the last week of March.
"We are disappointed to lose a player of Ashley's calibre but we wish him well with his recovery and remain hopeful that he will be able to play some part in the tour," said chairman of selectors David Graveney.
"Ian Blackwell is a talented player who performed well in the one-day series in Pakistan and this is a terrific opportunity for him to show that he can fulfil his potential against top-class opposition."
Having missed the final Test and one-day series in Pakistan, Giles had his hip operation on December 7 in a bid to be fit for the second tour of the winter.
When he failed to meet the target of bowling by mid-January, however, he was referred to a specialist for an updated report.
Dr Peter Gregory, the England and Wales Cricket Board's chief medical officer, said: "Ashley has been working extremely hard on his recovery programme and is making steady progress but he has not yet reached the stage where he is able to resume bowling again.
"The advice we received from Ashley's specialist is that it will take time to derive full benefit from the surgery he underwent in December and the medical team is working closely with Ashley to achieve this end.
"The operation Ashley required was more extensive than we originally anticipated which is why we are taking his rehabilitation steadily.
"At this stage, we cannot put a time frame on when Ashley might be able to join the England team. He will continue with his rehabilitation in the UK under the supervision of the Warwickshire medical team and a further assessment of his injury will be made in due course."
With Giles' condition in mind, the selectors initially left the third slow-bowling slot open before adding Monty Panesar, of Northamptonshire, a fortnight ago, when they also opted to name Blackwell as back-up.
With both players uncapped at Test level, the spin department will be led by Shaun Udal, who, despite his 36 years, has only three appearances and as many wickets behind him.
Yesterday's announcement effectively allows Giles to recover away from the spotlight. Despite averaging only two wickets per Test in his last 14 appearances, he remains an integral part of the side, strengthening the lower order with his batting ability and providing a safe pair of hands in the gully. The control he exerted on the 2001-02 tour of India was crucial to England's cause.
Coach Duncan Fletcher may view making up for Giles' lower-order runs a priority, which would open the door for Blackwell - originally selected on the A tour of the Caribbean - ahead of Panesar.
Panesar's batting and fielding have been scrutinised in the past.
Asked whether he viewed his elevation as boosting his chances of a Test debut, Blackwell said: "Well, I'd like to think so.
"There is a definite opportunity for me there and I think it will probably be who bowls best in warm-ups and in the nets (that gets the chance in the Tests)."
Statistically Blackwell lags behind fellow left-armer Panesar, claiming 28 first-class wickets at more than 52 apiece last summer in comparison to his rival's 46 County Championship victims at less than 22.
But Blackwell was the only Somerset player to pass 1,000 Division Two runs last summer and that could be crucial.
"I've done reasonably well for Somerset over the past few years and it is an area of my game which could be a big bonus for the team," said Blackwell.
"I think Duncan Fletcher wants to be looking for two or three-dimensional cricketers which means you are going to have bat and bowl in these games especially if you are going to be number eight in the team."
One player working his way back to full fitness, fast bowler Simon Jones, has spent the past week in Chennai working with Dennis Lillee in a bid to be ready for the warm-up matches.