New Zealand fast bowler Tim Southee is set to return to competitive cricket on Thursday, for Northern Districts against Wellington in the Plunket Shield, following a thumb injury that kept him out for two months. While Southee admitted to his finger still being a "bit stiff", he is hoping to be at his best and back in the national team before the end of New Zealand's home series against England.

"It's all looking promising. I spoke to the surgeon last week and he's pretty confident, [the thumb has] recovered more quickly than he expected," Southee was quoted as saying by Fairfax NZ News. "It's not at full range yet, it's still a bit stiff in some movements. It may still take another month or so for it to get back to being free like it was beforehand. But it feels reasonably strong, so unless I get a ball on the thumb I'm pretty sure it's going to get through."

Southee last played for New Zealand in November, during the tour to Sri Lanka. He then missed the Twenty20s against South Africa in early December, having stayed in New Zealand for the birth of his first child. He was supposed to join the squad for the Test series, but picked up the injury while playing in the Plunket Shield.

The injury, he said, was a serious one: "I'm excited to get back out there. It's probably the longest layoff I've had.

"There wasn't a break but I ripped the ligaments clean off the bone. It was in a full cast for two and a bit weeks, then a splint for a while after that. Four or five weeks after surgery I was back into a bit of bowling, and I was also able to do some running and gym work."

New Zealand's ODIs against England begin on February 17, while the Tests start on March 6. Southee said he would be in touch with the New Zealand management to plot his comeback: "I'll play this game and keep in touch with the New Zealand medical staff and Brendon [McCullum, the captain] and Mike [Hesson, the coach] as well. I guess it's up to them what they want to do, whether [I'll] be involved in the one-day series or just get myself right for the Test series."