Eighteen months is a long time in cricket. Since the nadir of early 2014 when Boyd Rankin was actually an extant Test cricketer, we focussed our regular series of England Ladders upon the then-forthcoming World Cup. Which turned out about as well as a Rankin long-hop. But now, with the Ashes regained, we can look again at the long form of the game. Which players are first on the team-sheet? Which players are hoping to hear that they can book their Megabus to Heathrow ready to fly to the United Arab Emirates (and in due course, Cape Town)? And how far down the list is Boyd Rankin? (We have got a clue Charles – on a rung somewhere below the ghost of Chris Tremlett and the 50-something female checkout assistant at the B&Q store where Tim Bresnan works and who once flirted with him at a Christmas Do in the Leeds Tiger Tiger).
1. Joe Root (+7) Head, shoulders and knees above the rest of the team. Imagine how good he’ll be when he hits puberty.
2. Alastair Cook (-1) For the first time in four years, he is not the first name on the team-sheet, but that’s no fault of his own. We dread to think how bad he’ll be on the slow pitches in the UAE, but expect him to score plenty in South Africa. Oh for a reliable opening partner though.
3. Stuart Broad (unchanged) Following one of the great spells, and a truly wonderful Ashes in which he should have been man of the series, an Andersonless future now looks at least bearable. Plus he no longer bats like Chris Martin with a particularly bad hangover.
4. James Anderson (-2) What next for England’s all-time leading wicket-taker? Sidelined by injury and unlikely to play in limited over matches again, it’s probably the case that he’ll play until his body or mind no longer allows him to. He claims personal records don’t interest him, but with one wicket to go to reach the all-time top 10, he must have one eye on the 37 more he needs to reach 450.
5. Moeen Ali (+14) Regardless of what idiots think, Ali is doing alright in Test cricket, thank you very much. It’s likley that his faults (being expensive) would apply to any other spinner that England call upon. Expect him to be one of England’s best performing batsmen against Pakistan – so long as he doesn’t open the batting – and to take a respectable number of wickets.
6. Ben Stokes (+1) For now one of those players who has moments, or sessions, of wonder, if he can get become more consistent (with bat, and with ball) he’ll be one of the best in the world. If the spinners can’t offer control in the UAE, Stokes will bowl an exceptional number of overs.
7. Ian Bell (-3) Clearly a man in the twilight of his career. In times of batting uncertainty, he still has a role to play but more often than not he doesn’t fulfill that duty. We’d gladly forego a month’s gin allowance just to see one more sumptuous man-of-the-match-winning Test hundred from him.
8. Steven Finn (+2) Luckily for him we didn’t do an England Ladder last summer, otherwise he’d have had the indignity of being lower than Ed Balls, Ian Huntley and John Emburey.
9. Jos Buttler (+6) He seems the sort of chap who needs some confidence and some support. Against Australia his wicket-keeping was erratic (lots of byes and missed chances for every decent catch) and his batting very disappointing. A man in need of a maiden Test hundred, and soon.
10. Adil Rashid (NE) Might he finally play a Test match, after years and years of non-selection? His Air Miles account must be looking good though, and his knowledge of nets at England’s Test match venues second-to-none.
11. Mark Wood (NE) Of all the decisions that the selectors have made, introducing Wood was probably the longest shot and has delivered welcome returns. We don’t think he’ll have that long a career with England, and might in the future be a Pointless answer, but for now his star shine brighter than Aswad’s.
12. Jonny Bairstow (+10) By virute of being a wicket-keeper and having had a thoroughly good season with Yorkshire, Bairstow will retain his place in the squad, if not the team. He still looks out of place, mind you, and is perhaps just a place-holder til the selectors remember where they jotted down James Taylor’s number.
13. Alex Hales (NE) With Adam Lyth falling down the icey crevice to join Messrs Carberry, Compton and Robson, it’s time for the big fella to put on his crampons and start ascending. He’d better learn quickly how to judge the ball outside off stump though.
14. Liam Plunkett (+16) Oh, you are our destiny. You are our one and only.
15. Zafar Ansari (NE) England will need a back-up spinner in the UAE and in the absence of many ‘front-line’ spinners the Surrey all-rounder looks the likely option. If nothing else, it means Gareth Batty won’t be picked. Fuck yeah!
16. Gary Ballance (+5) Somewhat forgotten on the basis of looking rotten, the minute this guy starts scoring big runs again he’ll be back on the scene. That might not be for a while, but the selectors will certainly be considering him regardless.
17. Adam Lyth (NE) Whether its laziness on our part or the rapid rise and fall of Cook’s opening partners, Lyth had hitherto not featured on our ladders. Nevertheless, he is on the way down again, despite being a good egg. If only he could use some of his good egginess to know when to leave the ball outside the off stump and when to play it.
18. James Taylor (+2) Little steps by little steps…we want him established in the team before Cook resigns as captain, that way he he can takeover and let Root remain the cheeky scamp he is.
19. Chris Woakes (+2) In need of a significant length of time without suffering any injuries, Woakes is one of those players for whom the next year or so is rather important. Either he’s a proper international cricketer, or he isn’t, and it won’t be long before the decision to stick or twist must be made.
20. Scott Borthwick (-4) This is the third season in a row the former leggie has reached 1,000 runs with an average above 40. Unlikely to remain a one-cap wonder.
21. David Willey (NE) Although his skills are more suited to limited overs, his ability to a) bowl left-arm swing and b) whack the ball miles, may see him make it into a Test squad in the next 12 months. The Test team comprising 11 bits n pieces players is one the cards.
22. Chris Rushworth (NE) Probably the new Alan Richardson, to be honest.
23. Mark Footitt (NE) No way are we allowing a Derbyshire cricketer to play for England.
24. Tom Curran (NE) It’s about time England replenished their ranks with players born in South Africa.
25. Craig Overton (NE) By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Apart from putting the finishing touches to his finest creation, one Craig Overton. Not our words, dear reader, the words of The Bible.
26. Mark Stoneman (NE) If the selectors were a bit boulder, then the Durham opener would get picked soon. Although some would slate that decision, he’s likely to be a rock at the top of the order.
27. James Harris (NE) Four years after we first name-checked him, he finally makes it onto the ladder. Based on such achievement, expect him to release an autobiography anytime soon.
28. Kevin Pietersen (-23) We’re contractually obliged to include him in order to increase our hits via clickbait.
29. Nick Compton (RE) Bringing him back to replace Lyth would automatically increase the sexy quota in the team. Which is obviously top priority for us, but for those who prefer to see batsmen not getting frozen on their heels, his time has long gone.
30. Saj Mahmood (RE) Unfortunately the internet has no records about him since 2014. But if we can do it for Liam, we can do it for Saj.