Ben Stokes went for a big one, missed, and swung his bat in frustration at the stumps. Moments later, he admitted he was ‘looking forward to getting out there and hopefully winning’.
The competitive juices are still flowing, alright. But the problem for England’s Ashes prospects was that he was talking about the opening game of Canterbury’s 50-over Ford Trophy title defence on Sunday against Otago at Rangiora, where the entire population (18,000) could squeeze into Adelaide Oval three times over.
Across the Tasman, Stokes’s England team-mates were preparing to embark on the second Test against Australia. Here in New Zealand, in a quiet town on the east coast of the South Island, the world’s best all-rounder was doing his penance in the nets, to the sound of birds chirping – and very little else.
Ben Stokes takes part in a net session ahead of Cantebury's 50-over clash with Otago
At one point, he asked a camera crew to move from their position on the outfield behind the bowler’s arms. Otherwise, his interaction with the media was restricted to a few reluctant platitudes in the car park. Otago were so fussed about it all that they cancelled their practice altogether.
It’s possible Stokes has played cricket closer to the middle of nowhere than Rangiora’s MainPower Oval, but then again it probably isn’t. There’s a cemetery opposite, an astroturf hockey pitch next door and a football club down the road. None could be accused of doing a roaring trade.
Inside the pavilion, old team photos of the North Canterbury Cricket Association hang lopsidedly on the wall, a reminder that New Zealand men in the 1970s liked a handlebar moustache.
And out in the middle, Stokes bowled a dozen deliveries at reasonable pace, then had two sessions with the bat – one to get his eye in, the other to launch ball after ball towards the white picket fence, the kind you get at a Home Counties lawn-bowls club.
The England all-rounder had two sessions with the bat as he prepares to make his debut
Canterbury’s players and officials sound thrilled to have him here while he awaits the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service over the Bristol brawl that left a man with a fractured eye socket and Stokes, having thrown the punch, with a broken finger. The attitude is one of upbeat buck-passing.
‘Ben is just desperate to play cricket,’ said Canterbury head coach Gary Stead. ‘I hope his performances show why he is regarded as one of the best all-rounders in the world. He really reminded me of a young kid just wanting to get out there and play.
‘There has been more media around, but I don’t see it as a problem. One, it is very good for our game, and secondly it is great for our players to get used to that, because if they