Ben Stokes signs for New Zealand's Canterbury as he awaits Ashes verdict
All-rounder was sorely missed in the first Test as his England teammates slumped to a 10-wicket defeat against Australia.
Suspended England all-rounder Ben Stokes signed with New Zealand provincial side Canterbury Thursday, fuelling speculation he is preparing for a possible Ashes call-up.
Stokes, 26, signed a deal just a day after arriving in the country for a trip English cricket officials initially had said was simply a family visit.
Canterbury said in a statement that Stokes had signed as the team's overseas player and would be eligible for a one-day match against Otago on Sunday.
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"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 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 is currently banned from international cricket while British authorities probe his alleged involvement in a late-night fight outside a Bristol nightclub.
Detectives handling the investigation said in the UK late on Wednesday that they had handed the file to prosecutors for "charging advice". They gave no indication of how long that might take.
The England team touring Australia have sorely missed Stokes' presence, slumping to a 10-wicket defeat in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane.
He will also miss the second Test starting on Saturday in Adelaide but could potentially make the third in Perth on December 14 if his legal issues are finalised.
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.
Updated: November 30, 2017 10:48 AM