There cannot be a more sleepy and low-key setting than Hamilton for Ben Stokes to finally make his entrance towards the end of a winter that should have provided him with his best chance to star in an Ashes series in Australia.
The contrast between cricket’s holy grail and a Twenty20 tri-series that has hardly captured the public’s imagination could not be greater but to England it will feel like Stokes is riding to their rescue on a white charger.
Not that the belated, anti-climactic arrival of Stokes to join England’s stuttering tour, one of the more exciting things that can happen on a quiet Friday in this nondescript New Zealand city, should be any cause for celebration.
Ben Stokes pleaded not guilty to affray at Bristol Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday
There still seems an unseemly haste to England’s decision to allow their best player to rush virtually straight from Bristol Magistrates Court to join an expedition that has again faltered after the brief high of a one-day series victory.
Better, surely, for Stokes, who pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to affray and now faces trial in Crown Court, to stay at home and fight to clear his name rather than represent his country with criminal charges still hanging over his head?
Instead he will miss his next court appearance to stay here now in all likelihood for the duration of the one-day and Test series that follow this listless and already all but forgotten Twenty20 tournament.
The possibility of Stokes suing his employers at the ECB for restraint of trade sadly stopped common-sense prevailing and England have been sentenced to the extra scrutiny that will accompany them now for the rest of this trip.
He is set to join up with his England team-mates on their T20 tri-series in New Zealand
Stokes has not featured for England since their meetings with West Indies last summer
Not that there will be any opposition among players or management to Stokes rejoining them now because he remains an extremely popular member of the squad and one of England’s ‘leaders’ in the words of coach Trevor Bayliss.
There is no-one here blaming Stokes, who was initially suspended for his part in a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub, for the loss of the Ashes nor for the intrusive spotlight that was shone on England’s social activities in Australia.
England’s one-day team are a particularly close-knit bunch and it appears that a genuinely positive team spirit will not be affected once the erstwhile Test vice-captain returns to the ranks, hopefully a little wiser for what happened.
Only the possibility of a problem in the relationship between Stokes and Alex Hales, who was with him that fateful night in Bristol and faces ECB disciplinary action once the court case is settled, might be an issue for England.
He will arrive in Hamilton on Friday as he prepares to make his international return
‘He is one of the best if not the best all-rounder in the world so the confidence and skill-sets he brings to the team are unbelievable,’ said Dawid Malan after England’s third loss in three Twenty20 matches here.
‘We know that we will have a match-winner back with us either with bat or ball and to have him around the team again will be fantastic, especially in the shorter format. He’s pretty much a freak when he gets going.’
Malan, a ray of light in the short-form gloom after hitting in Wellington his third half-century in four international Twenty20 appearances, revealed there was an earlier time when England thought Stokes was on his way to join them.
‘There was one point during the Ashes when the boys were talking in the dressing room and saying he could make the third Test,’ said Malan.
‘Apart from that there’s been no chat and I think everyone forgot it was his court case yesterday. That doesn’t mean no-one wants him. Everyone wants him here because he’s a massive part of this team.’
Trevor Bayliss believes the first ODI with the Kiwis on February 25 may be too soon for Stokes
Dawid Malan hit his third fifty in four T20 matches for England in the defeat in Wellington
It remains to be seen whether Stokes trains with England on Friday and he has already been ruled out of the final qualifying match on Sunday of what has been a pretty meaningless tournament played out in front of small crowds.
Bayliss said on Wednesday that even the first one-day international, back in Hamilton on February 25 after a potential Twenty20 final in Auckland, might come a bit too early for Stokes after his long stint on the sidelines.
Yet there is no question that England want him back winning games for them as soon as possible.
‘We’ll have a chat once he starts practising and it will be clear whether he is hitting them well in the nets and how his bowling is coming out,’ said Bayliss, who has supported Stokes throughout the episode.
‘In the past he’s come back quicker than we feared after injuries and that’s the sort of character he is. It doesn’t take him long to get up to speed.’
The question over whether Stokes should be here now remains a valid one but there is no question that England will be pleased to see him. Let’s just hope they do not raise a glass to his arrival.
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