Canterbury sign Stokes amid Ashes uncertainty
England all-rounder Ben Stokes has joined first-class New Zealand side Canterbury amid uncertainty over his participation in the Ashes series against Australia.
The Canterbury Cricket Association (CCA) confirmed the signing of Stokes as their overseas player on Thursday, after the 26-year-old touched down in Christchurch midweek.
Christchurch-born Stokes did not travel to Australia with his England team-mates, who suffered a crushing 10-wicket loss in the opening Test in Brisbane, while police investigated the circumstances surrounding his arrest on September 25 in Bristol.
Stokes – suspended by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) when footage of the incident emerged – was released without charge having been detained following an alleged fight with two men outside of a bar.
But Stokes is now set to feature in a Ford Trophy match against Otago on Sunday after his inclusion was sanctioned by the CCA, ECB, the New Zealand Cricket Players Association and New Zealand Cricket, as England prepare to face Australia in the second Test, starting Saturday.
"After the approach from Ben's representatives everything has happened very quickly for us to the extent that we are now delighted to welcome Ben into the team," said CCA director of cricket Gary Stead.
"Ben will bring international experience to what is a relatively youthful changing room. He will also bring depth to our seam attack which has been affected by a string of injuries and provide more balance and firepower to our batting line up.
"While Ben awaits the outcome of an investigation underway in the UK, he wants to maintain his fitness and his connection with the game.
"He is a brilliant all-round player and we are really pleased to have secured one of the world’s best players in our domestic competition. His experience will be invaluable to our young cricketers as we look defend our Ford Trophy title and improve performances in the Burger King Super Smash.
"The team have expressed their excitement about the opportunity to learn from and play with Ben."
Stokes inclusion in Canterbury's side comes after the investigation into the September incident was concluded and passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for "charging advice".
The news was confirmed by Avon and Somerset Police on Wednesday.
"While it would be easy to draw direct comparisons between the position taken recently with another player, we have to reiterate that in that situation the player was free to play until such time as he pleaded guilty to the charges," CCA chief executive Jez Curwin added.
"We believe Ben has the right to be treated the same way as other players. It is also our understanding that Ben would be free to play County cricket in the English domestic competition were they in season.
"Of course, as with all players, we can reassess the situation should it change. Whilst we have spoken to the ECB there are a lot of sensitive facts around Ben's matter that we have not been privy to however having spent time with Ben we are very comfortable that he wants to come to play for Canterbury for all the right reasons and get back on the park.
"The Ashes Series is an obvious connection however that has not been a consideration for us or Ben at this time, he is just keen to be able to work again.
"I have spoken with Ben and he is just really excited to have the opportunity to get back out onto the Oval and play the sport that he loves and is grateful to Canterbury Cricket and New Zealand Cricket for giving him the chance to represent Canterbury Cricket."