Stokes arrives in NZ ahead of England return

Ben Stokes has finally linked up with his England team-mates after landing in New Zealand on Friday. Stokes had been cleared to return to international duty despite being charged with affray last month.

The allrounder touched down in Auckland at 3.20pm local time to be greeted at the airport by Liam Plunkett and David Willey, as well as a host of local and international media.

Stokes appeared at Bristol Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, pleading not guilty to one charge of affray. The case was referred to Bristol Crown Court, with an initial hearing on March 12 - although Stokes has had a request not to have to appear in person granted - and he then boarded a flight in London on Wednesday.

He is expected to make an England comeback some five months after he last played during the forthcoming ODI series against New Zealand. Stokes had initially been pencilled in for a comeback during the ongoing T20 tri-series but his court appearance this week put paid to that.

England are set to play New Zealand in Hamilton on Sunday, still hoping to sneak into the tri-series final despite losing three games out of three. Stokes will train with his team-mates and could return as early as the second ODI, in Mount Maunganui on February 27.

Speaking on Thursday, Dawid Malan said it would be "fantastic" to have Stokes back in contention. Since an ODI against West Indies in September, he has played just six limited-overs games during a short spell in New Zealand's domestic competitions with Canterbury.

"He is pretty much a freak when he gets going," Malan said. "The confidence he brings to the team and the skill set he brings are unbelievable. You know that you have got a match-winner there either with the ball or the bat.

"To have him and around the team is fantastic, especially in the shorter format. It allows you to balance the team and play another batter or another bowler. Someone like Stokesy is invaluable. When you are batting with him you see how good he actually is and the confidence he has is the main thing. He believes that in any situation he can win the game."