Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns says veteran campaigner Shaun Marsh outshone his younger colleagues when the pressure was on in recent weeks, declaring the panel won’t accept "mediocre" performances.
Hohns also claimed picking the experienced Marsh to bat at No.6 for the upcoming Magellan Ashes proved the "nonsense" of claims from some quarters that Australia had not picked their best XI in a bid to develop younger in the recent past.
The experienced left-hander fought his way back into the Test team ahead of middle-order incumbents Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright in the wide-open race for the No.6 spot through three pressure-cooker rounds of the JLT Sheffield Shield.
Marsh has struck 236 runs at a tick under 40 in six first-class innings for Western Australia this summer. That came on the back of the 412 at a tick over 82 he scored in six JLT One-Day Cup innings, as well as the ringing endorsement from state coach Justin Langer that he was batting better than ever.
Maxwell (200 runs at 40), who struck Australia's first century from No.6 in more than three years in India last March, and Cartwright (152 runs at 25.33) were deemed to have not done enough.
"Both those fellas were spoken about and we came up with the fact that they haven’t performed well enough in the early rounds of the competition this year," Hohns told reporters in Brisbane on Friday, six days out from the first Test at the Gabba.
"(The selection panel had) suggested that they were going to be crucial (Shield) rounds for everybody.
"Everybody knew there were positions up for grabs. So it was up to them to perform and present their case to us.
"We just feel that Shaun Marsh … has performed much, much better and demanded to be chosen."
Marsh played all four matches of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in India earlier this year, passing 50 twice and sharing in a match-saving 373-ball partnership with Peter Handscomb in Ranchi.
After finding himself out of favour for the ensuing Qantas Tour of Bangladesh, Marsh insisted hadn't given up on his Test career but acknowledged he’d need a "mountain of runs" to win his spot back.
A mountain of runs is exactly what Marsh delivered on his immediate return to Australia, albeit in the 50-over form of the game initially by scoring a JLT Cup-leading 412 runs at 82.40 last month.
While he hasn't quite achieved the same dizzying heights in his start to the Shield season, his returns stack up against the other candidates for the No.6 spot.
Of the eight players to have made more runs than Marsh through three highly-scrutinised Shield rounds, Warriors teammate Cameron Bancroft (442 runs), Bulls captain Usman Khawaja (347) and Test skipper Steve Smith (268) have all been selected in the 13-man Australia squad.
South Australia's Jake Lehmann (249) and Victorian opener Marcus Harris (253) each pushed their case with centuries in the opening two rounds, with the former's first-class batting average of 43.85 and the latter's team-high 808 runs in last summer's Shield likely to have at least seen their names mentioned by the deliberating selectors.
Opener Jake Weatherald (second on the Shield run-scoring charts with 419 runs) starred with knocks of 152 and 143 in the Redbacks' comeback win over WA this week but with only one prior century in his short first-class career, the dashing left-hander does not yet appear a serious Test contender.
Former Test batsman Alex Doolan's unbeaten double-century against Victoria this week would no doubt have been noted but the fact 247 of his season's 318 runs came in one hit, combined with up-and-down returns in recent seasons would have counted against him.
Leaving South Australia’s Callum Ferguson (343 runs at 68.60), who was axed after one Test at the No.6 spot last summer, as the only other candidate who has scored more than Marsh in the Shield so far this summer.
"It took us quite a while because there were several contenders for various positions as everybody knows," said Hohns in also acknowledging this was one of the toughest selection meetings he's been part of.
"There were a lot of underperformers as well. We really didn’t' have anybody jumping out at us to demand selection, except for Cameron Bancroft who put a case forward that was irresistible.
"That's what we're asking our players to do now, not mediocre performances, we want to raise the bar.
"We want some of them now belting the door down with performances to keep the pressure on the boys that have been chosen.
"I think that will make our whole competition, our whole Australian setup, our Australian side a lot stronger if there's good competition for positions."
Hohns also suggested the selections of 34-year-old Marsh and 32-year-old Tim Paine were a reflection of the panel's belief that age is no barrier in the most important series on Australia's cricket calendar.
"It's the type of selection that is warranted, number one, and second it also displays we're not just here to pick a development side as has been touted a little bit in the past," Hohns said when asked about Marsh. "That's just a nonsense.
"The younger players that we have chosen over the past 12 months or so at this stage have not given us enough performances to be chosen in the initial squad for the Ashes.
"The Ashes are very important. We don't feel that it's the ideal venue to inject them again, particularly in such an important series when they're not giving us the form that we require."
Hohns said although captain Smith had made it clear that at times he'd like an allrounder picked among the top six batsmen to give him an extra bowling option, there were no standout performances from the likes of seam-bowling allrounders Marcus Stoinis, who prioritised family and his late father over cricket, or Moises Henriques.
And Smith admitted he'd taken note of former Test opener Justin Langer's assertion that Marsh is in the best touch of his career and was impressed by his knock of 91 against a NSW side last week featuring Australia's first-Test attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
"I thought he played very well," Smith said of Marsh's 130-ball innings.
"He's been opening the batting so No.6 is a spot where you can potentially face the second new ball so he's been doing that.
"He scored some good runs against us at Hurstville (Oval) against a Test attack. He's hitting the ball really well.
"Justin Langer has been saying for some time he's in the form of his life and it looked like he's batting incredibly well."
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21