Heightened expectations as Stokes prepares for comeback

The Mainpower Oval in Rangiora, on the outskirts of Christchurch, is braced for the highest-profile contest in its history on Sunday, as Ben Stokes prepares to play his first game of competitive cricket since he was arrested in September following a street brawl in Bristol.

Stokes, who caused a sensation last week when he was spotted at Heathrow Airport with his full cricket kit, has agreed terms to represent Canterbury in their domestic competitions, starting with a 50-over game against Otago in the Ford Trophy.

He was granted a No Objection Certificate by the ECB on November 24, leading to speculation that he was being primed for an England recall as soon as the third Ashes Test at Perth, starting on December 14.

However, Avon and Somerset Police last week confirmed that they had passed their completed file over to the Crown Prosecution Service, to seek advice as to whether Stokes should be charged for his actions on September 25 - a development that has made his prospects of featuring in the Ashes ever more remote.

Nevertheless, he has settled in with his new team-mates at Canterbury, and spoke briefly to reporters at a nets session at Rangiora on Saturday morning, hours before his England team-mates embarked on the second Test against Australia at Adelaide.

"I'd been working hard back home as well so it'll be good to put that into practice," Stokes told the Daily Telegraph. "I think it'll be good for the club as well, so I'm looking forward to getting out there and hopefully winning.

"It's the first time I've met quite a few of them [Canterbury team-mates] today," he added. "I knew a few of the younger guys because they'd been coming over to Durham on an exchange programme, so it's nice to know a few faces because it is always hard coming into a new team when you're meeting them for the first time. So it was nice to see a few friendly faces."

"Ben is just desperate to play cricket," said Gary Stead, Canterbury's director of cricket. "He really reminded me of a young kid just wanting to get out there and play.

"I can't remember a time where there's been more interest in any match I've ever played in or been involved with in New Zealand," Stead added. "There's been interest from all over the world."

Some have questioned Stokes' signing in the circumstances, including Peter Fulton, Canterbury's former captain. However, for Brendan Donkers, the club's one-day coach, his arrival comes with spin-off benefits.

"We're a young group with an average age of 23 or 24, so to have a guy of Ben's experience and quality is really going to lift our standards," said Donkers. "Some people are saying we'd be foolish if we didn't play him and some say we'd be foolish to play him - but from a cricket perspective it is fantastic.

"This is the first time I have been standing with four microphones in front of me," Donkers added. "If our guys have got international aspirations, this is the norm so this is a good experience for them."