Kevin Pietersen is set for a return to competitive cricket at Fenner's next week, and is well on course to feature in the first Test against Sri Lanka on May 26, after stepping up his rehabilitation following hernia surgery with extensive nets sessions at The Oval.

According to Surrey's cricket manager, Chris Adams, Pietersen is approaching full fitness after nearly two months on the sidelines, and should be available for selection for Surrey's three-day game against Cambridge MCCU, followed by their County Championship clash with Essex at Whitgift School, starting May 18.

Assuming he comes through those matches unscathed, with the possibility of a CB40 fixture against Scotland in Edinburgh in between whiles, he is expected to slot straight back into the squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Cardiff in three weeks' time, despite leaving the England squad under something of a cloud during the recent World Cup.

Pietersen withdrew from the squad on March 6, immediately after England's thrilling six-run victory over South Africa in Chennai, complaining that the pain of a hernia that he had sustained during the one-day series in Australia had become unbearable.

While the nature of the injury was not in doubt, the timing of his departure raised many eyebrows, not least those of England's head coach Andy Flower, who suggested that Pietersen could have "bitten the bullet" and managed the injury through to the end of the tournament. It reawakened doubts about Pietersen's hunger for international cricket, however, Adams insisted that he was eager for a return to the fray.

"He's back to playing and within himself, he's ready to play," said Adams. "He's had a good break and he's keen to get going, because it's time to focus on the next couple of weeks in the run-up to first Test. He'll be with us all this week, doing two nets a day, and all the twisting and turning and bits of fielding before a game, and if he comes through that alright he'll play next week at Cambridge."

The final say on Pietersen's availability will be determined by the ECB - "we feel he's England's player, not ours," said Adams - but with the club physio, Dean Conway, working closely with the England management team, Pietersen came through a fitness test at Lord's last week, and was given a good going-over by a trio of Surrey youngsters in the Oval nets on Wednesday morning. "He looked very good, very simple, and reported no problems whatsoever," said Adams.

With Surrey struggling at the foot of the Division Two table, Adams insisted that the prospect of Pietersen's availability was nothing but a boost for the squad. "Do we think of it as a disruption, or can we find the space for him in the side? Absolutely yes, he's a world-class player. Any one of our players, if they were in Kev's position, they'd like to think they could come back and get a game if they needed it.

"He's taken advice from the England management in terms of staying away from cricket since the World Cup, but he's popped in on a few occasions," said Adams. "When he's been around he's been good as gold. When he came here last year he had a good motive to be good around the squad, and he was very helpful and led by example. I've not seen anything different yet this year, and he's seems very at home."