WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Suspended England allrounder Ben Stokes signed with New Zealand provincial side Canterbury on Thursday, fuelling speculation he is preparing for a dramatic Ashes call-up.
The 26-year-old inked a deal just a day after arriving in the country for a trip English cricket officials initially said was simply a family visit.
Canterbury said in a statement that Stokes had signed as the team's overseas player and would be eligible for a one-day match against Otago on Sunday.
"While Ben awaits the outcome of an investigation underway in the UK, he wants to maintain his fitness and his connection with the game," coach Gary Stead said.
Canterbury chief executive Jez Curwin played down any link to Stokes' Ashes ambitions.
"Having spent time with Ben we are very comfortable that he wants to come to play for Canterbury for all the right reasons and get back on the park," he said.
"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."
Stokes is currently banned from international cricket while police investigate his alleged involvement in a late-night fight outside a Bristol nightclub.
The England team touring Australia have sorely missed his presence, slumping to a 10-wicket defeat in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane.
The second Test starts on Saturday in Adelaide.