LONDON: Ben Stokes is "on track" to make an England return in next month's Ashes opener in Brisbane, according to Test captain Joe Root.
The star all-rounder has joined England's red-ball specialists in an advance party for the five-Test series as they await the arrival of the players involved in the T20 World Cup.
Stokes, 30, was not named in England's Ashes original squad after taking an indefinite break from cricket to focus on his mental health and recover from a severely fractured index finger.
But he subsequently declared himself available to tour and hopes are rising he could feature in the first Test at the Gabba starting on December 8, even though he has not played since July.
"It looks like he's on track and it's really exciting," Root said on Thursday.
"Ben has been fully involved in training the last couple of days," he added. "We've seen him at training. Having him back amongst things is always great, so it's really nice to have him back involved."
Root was also upbeat about the fitness of veteran seamer Stuart Broad after the 35-year-old's home season was cut short by a torn calf muscle in August.
"He bowled today in the nets again.... He's getting those workloads back up again," said the skipper.
"With all the bowlers really it's making sure that they are absolutely ready to go for that first Test match. We've got all options on the table."
The rest of the Test squad, together with head coach Chris Silverwood, are to join the tour straight from Dubai next week following England's T20 World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand.
Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood were all involved in that defeat but Root is confident he will have no trouble bolstering their morale due to the importance of the Ashes.
"It's a huge series," he said. "It's one that everyone wants to be a part of, one that people look forward to every four years. So yes, there'll be disappointment, but at the same time it's another great challenge and opportunity for us to go in and do something special."
England's past 10 Tests in Australia have yielded nine defeats and a draw but Root said the tourists knew what they were up against.
"One thing we know about this Australian team, in terms of its bowling attack in particular, is that it has been very settled and very similar for a long period of time," said Root, who has been in sparkling form with the bat in 2021.
"We should have a really good idea of how they are going to operate."