London: England all-rounder Ben Stokes is about to strap on his pads in New Zealand but his chances of playing any role in the Ashes appear to be close to zero.
The player's dash across the globe to take part in his native country's one-day domestic competition fuelled speculation he was preparing for a dramatic England call-up in time for the third Test in Perth.
But developments in England suggested his hopes of returning to bolster the struggling national side were diminishing rapidly as British police revealed a decision was yet to be made over whether he will face charges in a criminal investigation.
Police said a decision on whether to charge him over a brawl outside a nightclub had been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service -- the outcome of which may not be known for weeks.
Given Stokes, 26, has not been, and may not be, convicted of any criminal offence, England could have taken him to Australia anyway on the grounds his worth to the team would justify the inevitable off-field furore.
But England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) director Andrew Strauss has repeatedly insisted cricket authorities must wait on the English legal system before deciding how to proceed with Stokes.
With the latest developments, England appear to have accepted they will not be seeing their star all-rounder play in the Ashes, even though they desperately need his talismanic presence after losing the first Test 1-0.
"That was what we thought as a group when we set off here," said skipper Joe Root, quoted in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.
"All of our planning and preparation has been without Ben so how we go about things won't change. I would personally love to have him back. But these things are completely out of our hands and we just have to move on."
National selector Angus Fraser said that with all the uncertainty surrounding their star player, England could not afford to bank on the all-rounder turning up in Australia.
"If something changes then you react," said the former Test fast bowler, speaking in London. "But I don't think anyone is looking over their shoulder for a plane to come in to land."
In order for Stokes, born in New Zealand, to be available for domestic cricket overseas, the ECB had to issue him with a no-objection certificate.
At the same time, the ECB upheld the suspension from England duty they imposed on Stokes following his involvement in the incident in Bristol in the early hours of September 25.
But cricket chiefs were reportedly caught by surprise when photographs emerged of him at London's Heathrow airport with his cricket gear, not realising he had planned to fly to New Zealand so soon.
England missed both Stokes's batting and pace bowling as well as the spirit of defiance that can lift his team-mates during their thumping 10-wicket defeat in the first Test.
They are now preparing for the second match of the five-Test series, which starts in Adelaide on Saturday.
In the meantime, Stokes is getting ready to play for New Zealand provincial side Canterbury on Sunday.
Canterbury chief executive Jez Curwin played down any link to Stokes's Ashes ambitions.
"The Ashes series is an obvious connection. However that has not been a consideration for us or Ben at this time, he is just keen to be able to work again," he said.
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