Suspended England all-rounder Ben Stokes will make an unlikely debut at New Zealand’s tiny Rangiora Recreation Ground this weekend, and his opponents insist they will not be overawed.
“He’s just another player at the end of the day. It’s not like Don Bradman is walking out to bat,” deadpanned Otago’s Jimmy Neesham ahead of the much anticipated fixture.
Stokes will appear for Canterbury in New Zealand’s one-day domestic competition after dashing halfway around the globe in search of a game of cricket.
He was unable to join his England team-mates for the Ashes in Australia after being barred from international cricket over an alleged fight outside a Bristol nightclub.
Needing to stay match-fit in case a police investigation clears the way for a last-minute Ashes call-up, Stokes decided to take the road to Rangiora.
The 26-year-old is used to being England’s main man, but Otago coach Rob Walter backed his players against one of the best all-round talents currently in the game.
“It’s about being smart and bowling our best balls to him like we would to any other batter,” Walter told Fairfax New Zealand.
“He can also get out. It’s not as if he’s never got out in his life. We’ve got just as much chance of getting him out.”
While Stokes’ trip from Britain to New Zealand may have brought him physically closer to the Ashes series, his chances of participating seem as remote as ever.
British police have passed his case to prosecutors for “charging advice”, a process that could take weeks as Test cricket’s most storied contest continues apace in Australia.
The second Test will be underway in Adelaide when Stokes takes guard in Rangiora, and a worst-case scenario for England would see the Ashes lost in Perth two weeks later.
England selector Angus Fraser indicated the tourists, already down 1-0 in the five-Test series, have to deal with the situation in front of them, not wait for Stokes to arrive and save the day.
“If something changes then you react,” he said in London.
“But I don’t think anyone is looking over their shoulder for a plane to come in to land.”