Ben Stokes is in New Zealand - but not to join Ashes squad
ECB: ‘Stokes is making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family’
Ben Stokes is expected to play for Canterbury in New Zealand’s Ford Trophy on Sunday. Photograph: John Walton/PA
Ben Stokes was spotted at Heathrow Airport on Monday evening, complete with cricket kitbags among his luggage, to prompt a flurry of excitement among supporters about the all-rounder joining England’s ailing Ashes tour.
The 26-year-old was in fact en route to New Zealand with the intention of playing cricket for Canterbury in the home town of his parents, Christchurch. While not available for England, he in theory can still take the field domestically.
The England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed the trip in a statement last night, albeit without making reference to a cricketing comeback. “The ECB is aware that Ben Stokes is making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family. His travel arrangements have not been arranged by the ECB,” it read.
“He is not on his way to the Ashes, England Lions or any other official training camps with the England set-up.”
Stokes is currently unavailable for England selection – but remains on full pay – while he and the ECB wait to discover if he will be charged following his late-night arrest in Bristol on September 25th. Only then will his cricket disciplinary hearing take place.
Andrew Strauss, England’s team director, was asked for an update on Stokes in Brisbane on Monday after Joe Root’s Test side had gone 1-0 down to Australia but admitted that, while the ECB has started some procedural elements of his cricket case, they remain in a holding position.
Strauss said: “We are waiting for the police to make a charging decision and, until that happens, nothing has changed. We’re in the same situation as we have been for quite a long time now.”
Stokes, who suffered a broken hand during the incident in Bristol city centre after a one-day international against West Indies at the back of the summer, has recently returned to training indoors, posting videos of his net sessions on Instagram.
New Zealand would allow for this work to continue outdoors and – naturally – see him closer to Australia should his situation change.
Stokes has already missed two one-day internationals and one Test match, which could be rolled into any backdated sporting sanction that follows. But as has remained the case for two months, nothing can move until Avon and Somerset Police have completed their work and his hopes of joining the Ashes tour remain remote.
In his absence, the balance of the Test side has been affected, with the need for additional bowling options and a lenghtened tail that was bombarded by Australia’s battery of fast bowlers during the 10-wicket defeat at the Gabba.
Trevor Bayliss, the head coach, has told the players to treat his absence like that of an injury but there is a frustration among the management that England lack the on-field bite that would counter that of Steve Smith’s hosts.