It is not quite Brisbane in November on the opening day of an Ashes series, but Ben Stokes' antipodean tour is finally likely to kick off. He will, however, have to wait his turn with the second ODI against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui shaping as his earliest return.
That's the message from Trevor Bayliss, speaking after his allrounder received the green light to travel south after fronting court to plead not guilty on Tuesday. Despite landing in the country a couple of days before his 50-over colleagues, Stokes won't return to the side for their remaining T20s and it is highly improbable he'll be in the XI for the opening ODI.
"He hasn't played for a while so it is not as if we can bring him straight back for these T20s," Bayliss said in Wellington, the morning after England's latest short-form defeat.
England's opening ODI is in Hamilton on February 25, but Bayliss will be waiting until he has seen evidence with his own eyes that Stokes is ready. "I'd have to say it's unlikely," he said of Stokes' participation in that particular ODI. "It's just up and in the air. We'll have to wait and see how he is travelling, with the practice. We have got to get him up to speed and hopefully during this one-day series we can get him back into the team."
Before Christmas, Stokes - who has not played for England since September - participated in six white-ball fixtures in the domestic New Zealand competition, but that is not going to make much difference on this visit. Bayliss instead will make a "judgement call" on the 26-year-old's outdoor net form; he has been restricted to indoor training only over the last six weeks.
"It'll just be something we have to keep an eye on as the practice days go," he said. "In the past, he's been out with injuries and coming back sooner than we think. That's the type of character he is and it doesn't take him long at all to get back up to speed."
The reality is that Stokes is never surplus to requirements, even after the ODI side thrashed Australia in Australia 4-1 in January. "One of the biggest things we've missed over the summer has been the combinations we've been able to play," Bayliss said. "Especially in the one-dayers and T20s. We've been able to have six bowlers [before], which gives the captain plenty of different options. We've been down to just the five bowlers."
Of course, the frustration remains that the incident has so dominated this tour. Bayliss freely admits he was "sick of it from the first day" nearly five months ago. But the latest legal development - especially that Stokes will be initially available for Test duty in March - means that plans could be getting back on track for the England management.
"He's looking forward to getting back doing what he does best and I'm looking forward to catching up with him," Bayliss said. As far as the playing group is concerned, the coach says Stokes will be welcomed back warmly. "Don't forget he wasn't the only one who was out that night. There were a few others. They all can't wait for him to come back. He's a very popular member of the squad, one of the leaders of the squad and there won't be any problems whatsoever."
As for Stokes' state of mind in the lead up to his more substantial days in court, Bayliss believes this series is the best possible distraction. "There have been players in the past who've had off-field issues and been able to put that aside and concentrate on cricket," he said of the "relief" Stokes will experience in playing again. "I've got a feeling he will be one of the guys who can put it aside and perform."