Not everyone seems to be happy with Ben Stokes' deal with Canterbury    Getty Images
Not everyone seems to be happy with Ben Stokes’ deal with Canterbury Getty Images

Ben Stokes inked a deal just a day after arriving in New Zealand for a trip English cricket officials initially had said was simply a family visit. Canterbury said in a statement that the England all-rounder had signed as the team’s overseas player and would be eligible for a one-day match against Otago on Sunday.

The Christchurch-born Stokes is ineligible for England selection pending the outcome of his street-brawl case and as a result, he isn’t a part of the Ashes side.

“While Ben awaits the outcome of an investigation underway in the UK, he wants to maintain his fitness and his connection with the game,” coach Canterbury coach Gary Stead said.

Canterbury chief executive Jez Curwin played down any link to Stokes’ Ashes ambitions.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Stokes was born in New Zealand but moved to England as a child when his father Gerard, a former rugby league international, took a coaching role. Both parents have since moved back to Christchurch.

Disappointed New Zealand media

His arrival in New Zealand has not been met with universal acclaim, with Fairfax senior sports writer Duncan Johnstone calling it “a shameless publicity stunt” by Canterbury. “Why should a New Zealand province be playing an overseas star back into form when he could very well be touring this country in February for five ODIs and two Tests?” he wrote when the deal was first mooted.

Ben Stokes signs for Canterbury; prepares for The Ashes return
Ben Stokes signs for Canterbury; prepares for The Ashes return

He also said it was hypocritical because Canterbury last week stood down batsman Ken McClure over his involvement in an assault.

New Zealand Herald cricket writer David Leggat wrote: “It’s a choice between morality and opportunity and Canterbury Cricket today opted for the latter.”

Curwin said McClure had been allowed to play until he pleaded guilty to a charge, while Stokes has not been charged.

“We believe Ben has the right to be treated the same way as other players,” he said. “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.”

Inputs from AFP