The sixth version of the England Ladder, which we cunningly have not subtitled with any reference to the Ashes simply because New Zealand have flown to these shores whilst Australia are still arsing around not picking Steve Smith and what’s more, the Kiwis are probably more likely to give England a decent game. There’s too much hype in the build-up to the Ashes anyway, and as England learned earlier this year, underestimating – or ignoring – New Zealand ended with Fulton egg all over their lovely faces. So here’s our latest take on the England pecking order, starting with the first name on the team sheet in every conceivable manner.
1. Alastair Cook (unchanged) He’s not bad with the bat is he? Three centuries against India and one in New Zealand shows that the captaincy hasn’t yet affected his run-making.
2. Matt Prior (unchanged) Wicket-keeper, batsman and hunk of burning love, Prior’s value to this team is monumental.
3. Graeme Swann (+1) His absence through injury in New Zealand was more significant than first expected. If he can fully recover from elbow surgery and return to his best, England’s next 24 months (i.e. through to the World Cup) will be much smoother than if his international career winds down to a disappointing end. #prayforswannyselbow
4. Jimmy Anderson (-1) Impressive in India, less so in New Zealand, Anderson still looks England’s most consistent pace bowler. Although last year’s Steyn vs. Anderson hypefest now looks a bit silly.
5. Kevin Pietersen (+4) Now reintegrated, now injured. It’s clear that Pietersen won’t be fit for the first series of the summer, but now that he’s once more a fully fledged member of Team England (as well as Chairman and Treasurer of Team Kevin), his absence makes the middle order looks weaker than a kitten with osteoporosis.
6. Jonathan Trott (-1) A steady winter for the Trottatron, here’s hoping he can keep his Test average the awesome side of 50.00 this summer.
7. Ian Bell (-1) His winter included two match-savings innings, of which the 75 against New Zealand was utterly epic, yet overall he never seemed at his dashing best on either tour. In Pietersen’s absence, Bell will be required to take the attack to the opposition. We don’t doubt his Lordship will rise magnificently to the challenge, and absolutely won’t waft a long-hop to mid off.
8. Stuart Broad (-1) Is he fully fit? If he isn’t, will he admit it? Broad picked up one more wicket than either Anderson or Steve Finn in New Zealand and is a definite selection – but we’ve a nagging feeling he won’t be able to play every game.
9. Steven Finn (-1) Still lacking the consistency that comes with experience, but so long as he can avoid kicking the stumps to kingdom come, the beanpole beauty should be England’s first choice third seamer.
10. Nick Compton (+16) Stupidly described by some as a “one season wonder”, Compton proved a yellow pages-sized list of doubters wrong with his centuries in New Zealand. He has started 2013 promisingly – though won’t score 950 runs before the end of May this time – and will surely open with Cook in the first Test, despite ever stiffer competition from…
11. Joe Root (+17) Having just scored sixty billion runs for Yorkshire and been named as captain of the Lions team, put your mortgage on Root being an England regular, a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, the England vice-captain, an MBE and confirmed as the father of the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby by the time Autumn arrives.
12. Jonny Bairstow (-2) A testing winter for Bairstow, playing very few actual proper matches, plus some personal problems and the rise of the Compton/Root two-headed sex beast, and he is our bet for perennial 12th Man this summer. At least as reserve wicketkeeper he is unlikely to spill the drinks.
13. Monty Panesar (+2) A tale of two tours: brilliant in India, average in New Zealand. Assuming Swann is fit, we can’t see a place for Monty for a long time; even if the elbow breaks again, is Panesar really the ideal bowler in English conditions against the Australian left-handers? (Sorry, we appear to have jumped ahead to the Ashes again.)
14. James Tredwell (+7) Whisper it quietly anywhere outside of Kent, but is Tredders actually England’s second best tweaker? No, he’s not, but he rarely lets anyone down. Including his mother, bless him.
15. Tim Bresnan (-4) A sad decline over the last 12 months, which hopefully elbow surgery has now halted. If he recovers his nippy ‘heavy ball’, and remembers how to bat, then he should rise back up the ladder.
16. Graeme Onions (-4) Just one Test match in the past three years, Gronions isn’t just a cricketer whose stock rises when he is out of the team; he really is chuffing awesome. All he can do is keep bowling Division One sides out, put drawing pins in Stuart Broad’s slippers and place marbles on Steve Finn’s staircase.
17. Chris Woakes (+6) Step three on the road to the entire Warwickshire team playing for England.
18. James Taylor (-5) Having started scoring runs again for Nottinghamshire, little James has been rewarded with a recall to the Lions team. We don’t really understand why he didn’t tour at all this winter, but then again, we don’t really understand mirrors either. Or much at all, to be honest.
19. Ravi Bopara (-3) Heaven help us all. Somehow Bopara is still hanging around the Lions team, despite not having scored a first-class run since the last decade. At least Eoin Morgan has dropped off the ladder altogether, destined to end up in T20 purgatory with Owais “88 on Test debut” Shah.
20. Chris Tremlett (+7) We said last September that we don’t expect him to play for England again. We may have been wrong – Andy Flower is certainly a fan and the big man is rumoured to be as fit as a butcher’s dog playing the fiddle.
21. Steven Davies (-1) Affected by Surrey’s off-field sadness last year, but he seems to be finding form again. He was once Matt Prior’s understudy and only the continuing presence of Jonny Bairstow might be holding him back from this particular role.
22. Toby Roland-Jones (NE) An electrifying start to the season for Middlesex, but with a heap of other young bowlers already around the scene, we don’t think there’ll be any space for him this summer.
23. Chris Wright (NE) An electrifying start to the season for Warwickshire, but with a heap of other young bowlers already around the scene, we don’t think there’ll be any space for him this summer.
24. Stuart Meaker (unchanged) There was a bowler called Stu Meaker, who spent his winter carrying beakers. He plays cricket for Surrey; he bowls in a hurry, but he’d probably make England a bit weaker.
25. Varun Chopra (NE) So long as he continues scoring runs in Division One, he’ll be in selectors’ minds. He will take great comfort in the way that Compton progressed from county to international level, but equally will be hoping the Somerset man’s form disintegrates like an egg sandwich.
26. Jos Buttler (RE) Improving as a batsmen in the County Championship and England’s incumbent ODI wicket-keeper, but we’ll eat Aussie Matt’s fake Baggy Green if Buttler gets called up this year.
27. Simon Kerrigan (-5) Selected for the Lions ahead of the likes of Danny Briggs and Gareth Batty, the Lancashire lad appears to be the leading young spinner in the country. He will be hoping for a long hot (and dry) summer.
28. Craig Kieswetter (-10) Has been up and down this ladder like a square-faced Fireman Sam. We’re still none the wiser as to his chances of playing Test match cricket, but whilst he’s still keeping wicket for his county, we expect him to be on a rung somewhere. Probably dropping things on the person below. However in his most recent act of wicketkeeping he failed to take a catch and broke his hand instead, meaning six weeks or so on the sidelines. Considering what most people do when faced with six weeks of not doing anything, we hope for his sake that he’s ambidextrous.
29. Samit Patel (-15) With England not due to play in Asia or the West Indies for many a moon, surely this bubbly all-rounder has played his last Test match, if not his last game in any form of international cricket.
30. Liam Plunkett (NE) Stranger things have happened.