Ben Stokes could be back playing cricket in New Zealand as early as this weekend as another twist emerged in the all-rounder’s Australasian sojourn.
The intrigue surrounding Stokes’ participation in the Ashes grew after he was pictured at Heathrow Airport on Monday night with a trolley full of cricket baggage, presumably on his way to . Stokes, however, was travelling to New Zealand, where his parents live, to spend time with his family.
It has since emerged Stokes is in talks with New Zealand domestic team Canterbury, to play in that country’s 50-over and Twenty20 tournaments. Canterbury is based in Christchurch where Stokes’ parents live.
The games would allow Stokes, who has not played competitively in two months, to get much-needed match practice should he be sensationally drafted into England’s flagging Ashes campaign. But the ECB says the trip was organised independent of the board.
The timing of the Stokes development has the potential to embarrass Canterbury, which last week had batsman Ken McClure stand down from representative cricket after pleading guilty to an assault charge.
Canterbury coach Gary Stead said at the time that the organisation is “committed to building strong, healthy communities and has no tolerance for this sort of behaviour”.
New Zealand cricket was in shock in 2013 when former international Jesse Ryder was left in a medically induced coma after being assaulted twice as he left a Christchurch bar. He has since returned to professional cricket.
Stokes is under police investigation in Britain after being involved in a wild brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol in September. He has been stood down by the England and Wales Cricket Board pending the probe and also faces disciplinary action from his employer.
A Canterbury spokeswoman issued a “no comment” when contacted by Fairfax Media about Stokes and McClure on Tuesday, but the team later issued a statement confirming it had held “informal discussions” with the player.
“The CCA [Canterbury Cricket Association] Board and New Zealand Cricket will independently be considering this issue in the near future but, until then, we are unable to provide any more detail on the status of the deliberations. As and when there are any further developments we will of course release further statements,” chief executive Jeremy Curwin said.
As a centrally contracted player, Stokes would need a no-objection certificate from the England and Wales Cricket Board, which Fairfax Media understands will be granted, while New Zealand Cricket would also need to sign off on any offer from Canterbury.
If a deal is reached, Stokes could be back on the field as early as Sunday against Otago.
“NZC has yet to receive a formal request regarding Ben Stokes,” the New Zealand board said.
“However, we understand he and his representatives have been in discussions with Canterbury.
“NZC has an open mind on this issue and will await further information, and an official request, before making a decision.”
The ECB said Stokes is not on official duty with Team England.
“The ECB is aware that Ben Stokes is making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family,” the statement read.
“His travel arrangements have not been arranged by the ECB. He is not on his way to the Ashes, England Lions or any other official training camps with the England set-up.”