England's Ben Stokes has given himself the best possible chance of being involved in the Ashes series against Australia, flying to New Zealand to play domestic cricket as he awaits the result of a police investigation.
The 26-year-old was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm outside a nightclub in Bristol in September but the authorities are yet to confirm whether he will be charged for the incident.
Stokes was subsequently suspended by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Though he did not travel with the squad to Australia for the Ashes series, there are no legal restrictions stopping him from going overseas while the investigation is ongoing.
Social media was awash with speculation that Stokes – who was spotted at Heathrow Airport on Monday (27 November) – was flying out to join-up with his England teammates ahead of the second Test in Adelaide this week.
The ECB have moved to deny that Stokes' move is in any way linked to the England team, but they have granted him a No Objection Certificate (NOC) that will allow him to play domestic cricket in the country of his birth while still under contract.
A statement read: "The ECB is aware that Ben Stokes is making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family. His travel arrangements have not been arranged by the ECB."
Christchurch-born Stokes is in talks about playing for Canterbury in the Ford Trophy and Burger King Super Smash competitions to ensure he is fit and available should he be required by his country. He could play as early as this weekend in the 50-over game against Otago Volts.
Canterbury chief-executive Jeremy Curwin said: "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. As and when there are any further developments we will of course release further statements."
Andrew Strauss, the England director of cricket, offered no update regarding Stokes when pressed on Monday about the possible availability of the all-rounder this winter or beyond. But this latest move and the awarding of the NOC indicates the ECB are prepared to soften their stance to ensure he is fit and available should a charge not be forthcoming from the Avon and Somerset Police.
"We're waiting for the police to make a charging decision and, until that happens, nothing has changed," the ex-England opener said. "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."
The ECB are awaiting the result from the police investigation into the episode, which also involved Alex Hales, before completing their own disciplinary process. However, it is understood the board will meet within 48 hours of a decision being confirmed.
Should Stokes escape without charge and the ECB make him available for selection, then the Durham man would represent a major boost to an England side who went 1-0 down in the five-match series after a 10-wicket defeat to Australia in the first Test at the Gabba. The team are reeling further from the furore created by Jonny Bairstow's headbutt on opener Cameron Bancroft at the start of the tour.