WELLINGTON: Local cricket authorities say they're open-minded about New Zealand-born England star Ben Stokes turning out for Canterbury province while under suspension for the Ashes series in Australia.
Speculation about Stokes' intentions arose when he was reportedly spotted at London's Heathrow Airport with his cricket gear, with photos spreading quickly on social media. Initial reports suggested the all-rounder may be heading to Adelaide to join the England squad ahead of the second test against Australia starting Saturday, but that was quickly quashed by the England Cricket Board.
British media then reported that Stokes is travelling to Christchurch, New Zealand to visit his parents Barbara and Gerard Stokes. A report in the Telegraph newspaper said Christchurch-born Stokes hoped to play for Canterbury province during his stay.
Canterbury Cricket chief executive Jez Curwin didn't rule it out as a possibility, telling reporters "we'd be delighted to have him come and play for us if we ever got to that stage."
"But," he added, "At the moment it's just wishful thinking from a variety of people that have put two and two together and come up with five."
New Zealand Cricket spokesman Richard Boock said his organization "has yet to receive a formal request regarding Ben Stokes. However, we understand he and his representatives have been in discussions with Canterbury.
"NZC has an open mind on the issue and will await further information before making a decision."
The England Cricket Board was quick to issue a statement confirming that Stokes was not heading for Australia to reinforce the squad that lost the first Ashes test by 10 wickets in Brisbane.
"The ECB is aware that Ben Stokes is making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family," the ECB said in a statement. "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 English setup."
By being in Christchurch, though, Stokes is only a comparatively short flight away from Australia and could quickly join the England team if police in Britain decides not to press charges after investigating his involvement in an incident outside a nightclub last September.
Stokes was arrested after video footage purportedly showed England's test vice-captain throwing punches in a street fight after a night out celebrating England's win over the West Indies in a limited-overs international.
He was released by police while the investigation continues. He has not played cricket since then, and the ECB has confirmed Stokes will not join the Ashes tour until the police investigation is complete.