By Russell Gould of the Herald Sun
England all-rounder Ben Stokes has spoken for the first time after his arrival in New Zealand.
Stokes broke his week-long silence since arriving in Christchurch and signing to play for Canterbury, albeit briefly, declaring he was just excited to play cricket again.
As debate continues to rage over his appearance for the provincial side, Stokes trained with his new team for the first time in semi-rural Rangiora ahead of a Sunday clash with Otago.
Canterbury signed Stokes as its international player despite lingering legal issues around his involvement in an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September, which left one man with a fractured eye-socket.
It was that incident which moved the England and Wales Cricket Board to stand Stokes down from international cricket, effectively ruling him out of the Ashes, at least until the matter is resolved.
But the ECB granted Stokes a No Objection Certificate enabling him to play domestic cricket and despite receiving criticism Canterbury was happy to sign the star all-rounder who was born in Christchurch and arrived on Tuesday to visit his parents.
And Stokes has taken the place which was going to Australian all-rounder Daniel Sams, who has played all three games for Canterbury as the club’s international player in its four-day team, making 241 runs and taking 11 wickets.
Canterbury one-day coach Brendon Donkers said when Stokes landed in their lap they opted for the damaging Englishman.
“He (Sams) was a guy we had earmarked to play some white-ball cricket for us. When this opportunity presented itself our plans changed,” Donkers said.
Stokes is likely to open the bowling for Canterbury in the limited overs match and revealed there were some familiar faces among his new team, with several players having spent time with his UK County team Durham, helping him ease in to the new surroundings.
“It was the first time I have met quite a few of them today,” Stokes said in a brief car-side interview at Rangiora Oval.
“But it was nice to know a few faces, a few of the young guys came over to Durham as part of the exchange program. It was nice because it can be hard coming to a new team.
“Hopefully I can get out there, do well, and contribute to Canterbury winning.”
Stokes is lining up to play his first match since the third one-day international against West Indies at Bristol in September, just hours before he became involved in the incident which lead him being stood down.
He is banned by the club, and his lawyers, from addressing his legal matters with the matter now in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK.
As critics continue to line up and slam Canterbury for signing Stokes but Donkers said there was a process by which their new player would be judged and like anyone he was allowed the presumption of innocence.
“Some people are saying we’d be foolish if we didn’t play him, and some said we’d be foolish to play him,” he said.
“He is keen to be here, and keen to play cricket, and that’s great for us.”