Andrew Flintoff now looks almost certain to play no part in England's Test series against New Zealand but Lancashire believe prompt action by their medical staff may have saved his summer by stopping his side strain turning into a more serious injury.
The 30-year-old all-rounder, who has been in outstanding form with the ball in his comeback from winter ankle surgery, complained of discomfort while bowling against Durham last week. Lancashire immediately ordered a scan, after which Flintoff was ordered to rest for two to three weeks.
That ruled him out of the first two Tests against New Zealand and, while there has been no setback, his absence is likely to stretch to the third and final match in the series, starting at Trent Bridge on 5 June.
But Lancashire's cricket manager Mike Watkinson believes that but for his staff's early intervention Flintoff could be facing two to three months on the sidelines, eliminating him from the South Africa series.
"I think our guys should be complemented for the way they have caught what could be a potentially serious injury, one in which you would have been looking at two or three months out," Watkinson said. "They have nipped it in the bud and two or three weeks' good rest will sort it out."
But Watkinson doubts Flintoff can be ready to face New Zealand. To play at Trent Bridge, he would need to have proved his fitness in Lancashire's Championship match against Yorkshire the week before, and Watkinson poured cold water on that idea.
"I don't want to be making predictions but I don't think he will be back for the Roses game," he said. "Maybe the game after that [against Nottinghamshire at Old Trafford].
"He'll need rescanning and reassessing. I'm just looking at the timescale of two or three weeks' recovery and a week to get match-fit."
After the Trent Bridge Test, the first opportunity for Flintoff to make an England comeback would be the Twenty20 international against New Zealand at Old Trafford on 13 June. He might also be considered for the five-match one-day international series against the Kiwis from 15 to 28 June.
With the domestic Twenty20 Cup running for three weeks in June, however, Flintoff will have only Lancashire's game against Sussex at Hove from 29 June in which to gain more first-class match practice before the first Test against South Africa on 10 July.