London: England team director Andy Flower said on Wednesday that he was "thinking optimistically" about star batsman Kevin Pietersen's chances of returning to fitness in time for the Ashes series against Australia.
A knee injury has kept Pietersen out of action since March, forcing him to miss the current series at home to New Zealand, the Indian Premier League, and next month's Champions Trophy.
He hopes to be available for the Ashes series, which starts at Trent Bridge on July 10, and posted pictures of himself batting on Twitter earlier this week, much to Flower's delight.
"We are thinking optimistically about Kevin's injury improving and it's nice that he's pain free. That is great news for him and for us," said Flower.
"Kevin's a really special player and we want him back as soon as he's fit enough to be back. That (seeing him bat) is good news for us and hopefully his improvement graph will carry on in the same way."
Pietersen's absence has allowed Yorkshire pair Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow to stake their claims for long-term involvement in the England set-up.
Both players impressed on their home ground in England's 247-run win over New Zealand at Headingley this week, with Root claiming a maiden Test century and Bairstow finishing unbeaten on 64 and 26.
"Joe has played outstandingly well in all three forms of the game since he's been given the chance to play international cricket and he's handled it really well, which is testament to his character and his skill," said Flower.
"It was also really nice to see how the Yorkshire public responded to his success; they really shared his excitement and his pride and his passion. That was evident to see when he did manage to get to 100.
"It was nice to see Jonny celebrate Joe's success as he did and be genuinely pleased for him, and it was also nice to see Jonny do well in this Test match in both innings too."
Pietersen's return would necessitate a reshuffle of England's batting order, but Flower was reluctant to discuss the suggestion that Root could be moved up the order at the expense of Nick Compton.
"None of us can foretell the future," he said.
"It's been a great series for Joe and it was nice that he got the man of the series too, but we don't know what's going to happen in the future, none of us do. We'll see how things pan out."