Stokes heads for New Zealand as Ashes frenzy returns

Stokes going to New Zealand was news for us - Woakes (1:57)

Chris Woakes said the team had no idea of Ben Stokes traveling to New Zealand to play domestic cricket but added it did put him closer to Australia (1:57)

The sight of Ben Stokes wandering through Heathrow Airport on Monday evening, sporting his full cricket kit, has been enough to spark an Ashes frenzy.

But those speculating that Stokes was heading to Australia to reinforce England's Ashes squad in the wake of their defeat in the first Test at Brisbane were disappointed - he was en route to New Zealand, where he arrived on Wednesday morning, and the ECB remained a little cagey about the reasons why.

In response to wildfire speculation, the ECB said that Stokes was making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family, but ESPNcricinfo understands that they granted him a No Objection Certificate on November 24 to play professional cricket in New Zealand.

Stokes is serving no official ban, but has merely been stood down from international cricket indefinitely while the ECB await the decision from Avon and Somerset Police whether he will be charged following his part in a fracas outside a Bristol nightclub.

Once that decision is reached, the ECB's own internal disciplinary procedure must be concluded - and England cricket followers will not expect them to ruminate overlong.

ESPNcricinfo has learned that once the police deliver their verdict, the board will meet (with video links if necessary) within 48 hours to decide how to respond.

It remains unclear whether the Board would take the decision out of the hands of the disciplinary committee, chaired by Tim O'Gorman, which had been given responsibility for deciding Stokes' punishment.

In the meantime, discussions are underway with Canterbury about Stokes playing domestic cricket in New Zealand while he spends time with family in Christchurch. It is possible he could return to the pitch as early as Sunday when Canterbury play Otago in a List A game.

A statement from Canterbury Cricket confirmed that they had "been in initial informal discussions with Ben Stokes' representatives regarding his potential availability for Ford Trophy and Burger King Super Smash cricket."

"The CCA Board and New Zealand Cricket will independently be considering this issue in the near future but, until then, we are unable to provide any more detail on the status of the deliberations," Jeremy Curwin, the CEO of Canterbury Cricket, said. "As and when there are any further developments we will of course release further statements."

Stokes' cricketing arrangements have not, it is understood, been arranged by the ECB. Indeed, many involved with the England set-up only found out about them late on Monday night in Brisbane which suggests that Stokes, and his agent, have been proactive in seeking cricket overseas.

England are at pains to stress that he is not linking up with the Ashes squad, or the England Lions, who are currently in Queensland shadowing the main squad, or any other official training camps with the England set-up.

Nevertheless, the fact he has flown to the other side of the world does indicate that his own interviews with Avon and Somerset Police are now at an end.

If Stokes is charged then the ECB may reconsider their No Objection Certificate as part of their own disciplinary process. If he is not charged, then potentially he is perfectly placed to make a short flight to join England's Ashes squad at short notice.

All that means that speculation that he might yet play a part in the Ashes is unlikely to die down.

Stokes was arrested in Bristol on September 25 and remains under investigation by Avon and Somerset Police, following allegations of Actual Bodily Harm in the wake of an altercation outside a nightclub.

The ECB Board has made no secret of its desire to get him back on the field at the earliest opportunity, with Tom Harrison, the CEO, saying recently that they wished to "rehabilitate his reputation on the field".

There may also be some frustration in the England camp, however contrary that appears. The team management has done everything they could to build a calm, settled environment for the squad and has been at pains to silence talk about Stokes.

The increased speculation this development will bring, coming on top of the Jonny Bairstow circus - in a bizarre episode, he was alleged to have head-butted Cameron Bancroft at the start of the tour - as well as a series of injuries, will not be viewed as entirely helpful.

Despite insisting that the Bairstow incident had been 'blown out of all proportion', Andrew Strauss, the England team director, felt obliged to act in response, instigating a midnight curfew for the Ashes squad, and insisting they needed to be smarter if they are to improve the perception the public currently have of them.

On Stokes' prospects of playing any part in the Ashes, Strauss added: "We're waiting for the police to make a charging decision and, until that happens, nothing has changed. We're in the same situation as we have been for quite a long time now.

"There are certain procedural things that have taken place but there is a process that can only kick in once we've heard a charging decision from the police. We're relatively clear in our minds what the procedure is from here and the start is the police coming out with their charging decision and, until that happens, we can't move forward."