Moeen Ali: England 'don't know' when all-rounder will be back
England chief selector Ed Smith says he "doesn't know" if or when Moeen Ali will return to the national side.
The all-rounder, 32, is not in the 17-man squad for the four-match Test series in South Africa, which starts on 26 December.
Moeen was granted time off from Test cricket in August after asking for a break following poor performances.
"In an ideal world we would like Mo to be available but we have to deal with the situation as it is," Smith said.
"We all know Mo is a talented and valued cricketer for England. At the moment we just don't know if and when that might happen.
"We respect that and we hope he will return to be available sooner rather than later."
In November, Test captain Joe Root said Moeen "adds a different dimension," to the side but that the spinner has to feel "comfortable and ready" to return.
Moeen's request for a break came after a run of poor form, including in the opening Ashes Test at Edgbaston, which resulted in him being dropped from the squad.
At the time he was the world's leading Test wicket-taker over the previous 12 months, but Jack Leach is now England's frontline spinner.
Smith added that selectors would be "keeping in touch" with Moeen and that the Worcestershire player had told him he has "more Test runs and more Test wickets in him".
"That was encouraging and that's what we believe," Smith added.
Earlier on Saturday, England announced James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood will return to the squad for the South Africa tour.
Seamer Anderson, 37, has not played for England since August, while wicketkeeper-batsman Bairstow was dropped for the recent tour to New Zealand and fast-bowler Wood has been out since the World Cup in July with a knee injury.