Ashes 2013/14: England places 'up for grabs' for ambitious county players
Sam Robson and Rory Burns among the players selectors will be watching...
Last Updated: 04/01/14 2:23pm
With Jonathan Trott absent as he recovers from a stress-related illness, Joe Root and Matt Prior dropped, and no frontline batsman averaging over 32, former England skipper Stewart says the next generation of players must start to press their claims for a place in the five-day side.
Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes has already grasped his chance, scoring a century in his second Test in Perth and taking 6-99 in his fourthn in Sydney, while Yorkshire's Gary Ballance impressed with a determined first knock on debut.
Ballance got his chance after finishing as the County Championship's leading run-scorer in 2013, with 1,251 runs to his name, while Durham's Scott Borthwick - who is also making his Test debut at the SCG - was another to break the 1,000-run barrier.
Up for grabs
While Stewart hopes that Trott makes a full recovery and returns to England's line-up - a view shared by England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive David Collier - he says that the selectors must keep an open mind.
"England's batting has not been good enough yet these are still the best players in England," said Stewart, who averaged 50.4 in Test matches at Sydney.
"There will be people sat at home saying 'get rid of them all', but who are you going to bring in? There aren't too many people knocking on the door.
"If you go back in time players like Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash used to score thousands of Championship runs.
"There aren't that many players scoring bucket-loads of runs in county cricket who are just going to come in and be better than the likes of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell.
"Sam Robson, of Middlesex, is now England-qualified and is doing well with the Performance Squad; he's someone who the selectors will have an eye on.
"There's also Rory Burns at Surrey, perhaps. But there are players who now know that there are places up for grabs.
"I want to see Jonathan Trott back. Hopefully he'll get over this issue he has and will be back batting at No 3 for England. We'll have to wait and see if that happens.
Although England are now odds-on to suffer an Ashes whitewash after Australia eased into a 311-run lead on day two of the fifth and final Ashes Test, Stewart believes that head coach Andy Flower and batting coach Graham Gooch are the right men to take England forward.
Following Gooch's frank interview on Sky Sports at stumps, Stewart defended his former England team-mate against accusations of defeatism.
"Gooch still has a lot to offer," insisted Stewart. "All he's done is be very honest so don't say he's got a defeatist attitude. Who is sat at home now thinking England are going to win this game?
"Players and coaches get criticised for not being open and honest but as soon as they are, they still get criticised. I don't think we will win this game. Is that defeatist or is that being a realist?
"Graham has not gone out there and batted for England. It is the players who have let themselves down and who have let England cricket down. Graham and Andy Flower are the right people to take English cricket forward."
With England facing such a big deficit after two days - and the record successful fourth-innings run-chase at the SCG standing at 228-2 - Stewart admits the tourists have little chance of avoiding an Ashes whitewash but he says the players must still approach day three with a positive mentality.
"England have got to believe that they can do it but it's highly unlikely because the pitch is offering uneven bounce and sideways movement," he added.
"There's nothing in this series that has said that England's batting is going to get 300, let alone 400.
"So what can they gain from it - a little bit of self-pride? Whatever happens, they've got to go down fighting; they can't just go in there and say 'the game has gone, let's get it over and done with as quickly as possible'.
"Somehow they've got to try and gain something so that us supporters back at home still believe that England has a future."
Alternatively, listen on Soundcloud...
Watch highlights of today's play from 9am on Sky Sports 3 and On Demand from 6.30pm. The Ashes Verdict is back at 9pm on Sky Sports 2 ahead of The Ashes Extra at 10.30pm, with live coverage of D3 from 11pm.