Ben Stokes’ England teammates will welcome him back onto their Ashes tour like a shot, but are still wary of interpreting his flight to New Zealand as a stepping stone to Australia.
While Stokes was disembarking in his native Christchurch to see his extended family and – more significantly to the wider world – agree a deal to play for Canterbury Kings, Chris Woakes was responding in Adelaide to the all-rounder’s surprise long-haul journey from Durham.
England are preparing for this week’s inaugural day-night Ashes Test, already 1-0 down after their 10-wicket defeat in Brisbane, and Woakes acknowledged Stokes’ assistance at some point in the series would be a huge help.
The mercurial match-winner is expected to play for Canterbury in New Zealand’s domestic Ford Trophy on Sunday – also the second day of the second Test at the Adelaide Oval.
If he is to play any part in the Ashes, he must surely first of all be cleared by Avon & Somerset Police of any criminal charge after being arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm during a late-night fracas in Bristol in September.
Should that happen, the England and Wales Cricket Board has a contingency to call a board meeting within 48 hours to determine its next move – dependent too on a Cricket Discipline Commission, which can take place only once the police investigation is concluded.
That all left Woakes speaking, as England have on this topic for much of the past two months, largely about conjecture.
Asked if Joe Root’s squad will welcome Stokes back should he become available, Woakes said: “Of course they would. Ben’s a world-class all-rounder, and makes any team better. The fact he’s out there playing cricket (means) he’s a little bit closer to Australia.”
The third Test in Perth, in mid-December, is the earliest feasible starting point.
“If he was to join the squad, that would be great for us,” Woakes added. “But at the minute, he’s not – so we have to get on without him.”
Woakes was also able to provide a reassuring update on Jonny Bairstow’s response after his benign but strange ‘head-butt’ greeting for Cameron Bancroft caused such a stir towards the end of the Brisbane Test.
Australia captain Steve Smith suggested the hosts had successfully distracted Bairstow by reminding him of the incident, when he first met opener Bancroft in a Perth bar a month ago, before the wicketkeeper holed out to third-man in England’s second innings at the Gabba.
Woakes disagrees, however, and reports Bairstow has not gone into his shell following the strange episode.
“I’m not actually sure that did get in his mind,” he said.
“Jonny’s been himself. He’s very talkative, a very bouncy, bubbly character as always. He’s a great guy to have in the squad, a great friend of mine as well, and I enjoy spending time with him.”