George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
England's Ashes hopes have been boosted by the news that Kevin Pietersen is provisionally scheduled to return to cricket on June 12 for Surrey against Sussex at Arundel.
Pietersen was forced home from the England tour of New Zealand and subsequently ruled out of the IPL, the home Test series against New Zealand and the Champions Trophy after he was diagnosed with bone bruising to his right knee. The ECB had previously suggested he would begin full training "by the middle of June".
A return against Sussex would allow him a minimum of three first-class games before the start of the Ashes. Surrey play Yorkshire in the Championship on June 21 before England take on Essex in a four-day warm-up game ahead of the first Test against Australia at Trent Bridge, which begins on July 10.
Micro-fracture surgery on the problem still remains a possibility but it is understood that Pietersen will be 100% fit on his return and there will not be any long-term implications for his involvement in all three formats for England.
Pietersen suffered the injury to his knee during a warm-up match at Queenstown ahead of the Tests against New Zealand and, although he played in the first two matches, he was ruled out of the decider in Auckland and returned home. A brace was fitted and rest prescribed but his return has proved more problematic.
The question of Pietersen's workload arose last summer when he retired from limited-overs cricket, citing the England schedule. He was subsequently persuaded to return - following a destabilising stand-off that saw him dropped from the squad - and was rested for the ODI and T20 series against New Zealand in February. In 2009, he missed three Ashes Tests after suffering an Achilles problem.
The possibility of Pietersen returning ahead of schedule comes after England named a squad to play New Zealand in the first Test at Lord's featuring Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, who both underwent elbow surgery over the winter. As expected, Jonny Bairstow will continue to deputise for Pietersen in the middle-order.