Ben Stokes is set to join up with his team-mates in New Zealand and could resume his England career in the coming weeks after he pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray over an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September. His case was referred to Bristol Crown Court, with a first hearing set for March 12.
Although Stokes will not currently be considered for the T20 triangular series involving New Zealand and Australia, he is set to depart the UK on Wednesday. The ECB released a statement saying that he would link up with the team in Hamilton, where England play New Zealand on Sunday.
"Having entered his plea at Bristol Magistrates' Court today, Ben Stokes will now travel to New Zealand to join the England squad," an ECB spokesperson said. "He departs tomorrow, Wednesday 14 February, and will arrive on Friday 16 February, ready to train with England team-mates in Hamilton.
"Any decision to include him in upcoming matches will be made by head coach Trevor Bayliss and the England management team. He is not currently being considered for the ongoing international T20 tri-series.
"ECB fully respects his right to defend himself in court and any obligations he has within the legal process will always take precedence over England commitments. It has been confirmed that he will not be required to return to the UK for the first hearing at Bristol Crown Court on Monday 12 March."
Stokes arrived at the Magistrates' Court in the city shortly before 10am, to be met by a scrum of cameras and reporters. Stokes spoke in court only to confirm his name, address and enter his plea on the basis of self-defence or the defence of another. Two other men charged with the same offence, Ryan Hale and Ryan Ali, also entered not-guilty pleas on the same basis. All were offered unconditional bail.
Having played no part in the Ashes, Stokes has now been cleared to represent England but a comeback in New Zealand during the tri-series was deferred by his need to appear at the Magistrates' Court. He was named in England's squads for the one-day series with New Zealand, which starts on February 25, as well as the subsequent Tests, on March 22-26 and March 30-April 3.
He is also expected to play in the IPL, which begins in early April, after being bought for GBP1.37m by Rajasthan Royals in last month's auction.
Stokes was charged with affray last month, having not been considered for selection during England's tour of Australia while police investigated the Bristol incident. He was arrested in the early hours of September 25 on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm; his England team-mate Alex Hales was also present and is likely to be called as a witness as the trial.
After the announcement by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Stokes tweeted his intention to defend himself: "I am keen to have an opportunity to clear my name but, on advice, the appropriate time to do this is when the case comes to trial. The CPS' decision to charge me, as well as Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, at least means that my account of what happened that night can come out in court and be made public."
Affray is an each-way offence - meaning it can be tried either at Magistrates' Court or Crown Court - with a maximum possible prison sentence of three years.