England allrounder Ben Stokes arrives in New Zealand

Speculation about Stokes' return to cricket arose when he was spotted at London's Heathrow Airport with his cricket gear, with photos spreading quickly on social media.

Published: 29th November 2017 10:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th November 2017 10:50 AM   |  A+A-

New Zealand-born England cricket star Ben Stokes arrives in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. | AP

By Associated Press

New Zealand-born England allrounder Ben Stokes has landed in Christchurch, where he's negotiating to play for Canterbury while under suspension for the Ashes series in Australia.

Speculation about Stokes' return to cricket arose when he was spotted at London's Heathrow Airport with his cricket gear, with photos spreading quickly on social media.

Initial reports suggested the allrounder 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.

Stokes arrived Wednesday at Christchurch, on New Zealand's south island, where he is visiting his parents, Barbara and Gerard Stokes.

He made no comment to waiting reporters on his arrival at Christchurch Airport.

After initially dismissing reports that Stokes may turn out for Canterbury as early as this weekend as "wishful thinking", Canterbury cricket on Wednesday confirmed it was in negotiations with Stokes.

"Following the recent speculation surrounding Ben Stokes coming to New Zealand, Canterbury Cricket can now confirm that they have been in initial informal discussions with Ben Stokes' representatives regarding his potential availability," it said in a statement.

Canterbury coach Gary Stead also suggested Stokes might at least train with his team in the near future.

"He's a world-class allrounder," Stead said. "I think we'd be stupid not to consider it.

"We've got a very young team at the moment. If he wanted to have some sessions with us, I think we'd be silly not to."

The Canterbury Cricket board is expected to meet later Wednesday to discuss whether Stokes will play for the province.

"Ultimately, if our board says no, it won't happen" Stead said. "From my point of view I think if you can get someone like that then let's do it.

"We're acutely aware that if this does get across the line there is something else obviously hanging over his head and that could happen at any stage. There's no time period or time frame on that for us.'

New Zealand Cricket spokesman Richard Boock said his organization hadn't received a formal request regarding Stokes but knew of discussions between the player and province.

"NZC has an open mind on the issue and will await further information before making a decision," Boock said.

The England Cricket Board was quick to issue a statement Tuesday confirming Stokes was not heading for Australia to reinforce the squad that lost the first Ashes test by 10 wickets in Brisbane. It has since granted a No Objection Clause which would allow Stokes to play in New Zealand as his suspension applies only to England matches.

"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.

If the Canterbury board approves Stokes' selection he could play for the province against Otago in New Zealand's domestic one-day competition on Sunday.

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said Stokes' presence in the competition would be a positive.

"From a cricket point of view he's a world-class player and would add a lot of talent to the competition," Hesson said. "Certainly, if players perform well against Ben it shows us they're performing well against the best."

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