Australia's coach Darren Lehmann says Shaun Marsh's proven ability to play match-winning international innings - albeit sporadically - and greater experience pressed the selectors to return him to the Test team for a ninth time as other batsmen failed to stand up to the pressure of vying for an Ashes berth in the opening Sheffield Shield rounds.
Marsh's best innings, including a century on debut against Sri Lanka in 2011, and a vital hundred alongside Steven Smith against South Africa at Centurion in 2014, have demonstrated that his best is more than good enough. However, injuries and intermittent runs of poor scores, most recently against India earlier this year, have contributed to his on-again-off-again role in Australian cricket.
However, it seems now that his advancing age and presence in numerous Australian squads helped the selectors to choose him rather than looking towards a younger option. Lehmann emphasised the fact that no one could afford to make mistakes around a home Ashes series that many jobs at Cricket Australia hinge upon, underlining why the selectors had looked towards the well-traveled figures of Marsh and also the wicketkeeper Tim Paine, who made his Test debut as far back as 2010.
"He's one of the class players," Lehmann told 5AA radio. "His record in the county season [for Yorkshire] was excellent, his JLT Cup form was unbelievable and he's got 50 or 60 and he got 90 against Hazlewood, Starc and Cummins on a wicket at Hurstville. He's in good form and we'd like a little bit of experience there. We think he can do that, he's played vital knocks for us at various stages throughout his career, we hope we've got him at the right time and he can do it again."
Lehmann indicated that Glenn Maxwell had not had his card marked never to play Test cricket again despite the decision to drop him for this series, noting that the Victoria batsman had been unable to make the hundred that might have seen him retained. "No definitely not," Lehmann said. "We wanted him to make big hundreds, he had a couple of opportunities against South Australia in the Shield game where he got a pair of 60s. He could've got 180 and really stamped his authority on that spot. He's well thought of, so there's no drama there, we just went with the in-form batter Shaun Marsh."
As for Paine's return to the team after years of struggles with a repeatedly broken finger and then finding himself out of the Tasmanian side due to a lack of runs, Lehmann said he wanted the 32-year-old to make the spot his own. He also hinted at how others - notably the New South Wales gloveman Peter Nevill - had failed to make any runs when placed under pressure to earn a Test berth.
"It's really his to lose now and performances will count," Lehmann said of Paine. "We know that and we said that [in] those first three Shield games performances do count, and it was interesting to see some people handle that pressure well and some people probably didn't handle it as well as others.
"We know he's a class keeper, so that wasn't the issue, and none of the other guys really grabbed their opportunity. It was really tight between all the keepers and he gets the nod. It's a tough call, Alex Carey probably didn't do enough that we wanted. He's going to be a player of the future, and I'm sure he'll play for Australia. There's no doubt about it at some stage, and we went for a touch of experience there and hopefully Painey will do the job, which I'm sure he will.
"It's a big series, we can't afford to have any mishaps behind the stumps, and we think Painey will deliver that for us, he's a good competitor, so that's the way we went. It was a tough call, one of the toughest selections you're ever going to have in a Test side, and people are going to like some of them or not like some of them, that's part and parcel of the job."
Another player who did not stand up to the pressure of spots available in the Ashes team was the South Australia captain Travis Head. Lehmann revealed he had spoken to Head about his mental approach, advising that the left-hander was perhaps trying too hard.
"I spoke to him the other week when I was in Adelaide," Lehmann said. "I said it looks like he's trying too hard almost to be perfectly honest, so desperate to play really well, he loves playing for his country and his state and he just looks a bit eager at the moment. That's a challenge for him and I'm sure he'll adapt and come back a better player."
The decision to drop Matt Renshaw for Cameron Bancroft means David Warner will go into the Ashes with yet another opening partner - after Phillip Hughes, Ed Cowan, Chris Rogers, Shaun Marsh, Joe Burns and Renshaw. "That's a lot of turnover and we'd love someone to really grab it. Obviously we hoped that was Matt Renshaw but at the moment he hasn't really grabbed it I suppose especially in those three [Shield] games, and Cameron Bancroft we hope he's the one. You've got to give him an opportunity and he'll get plenty of opportunities to perform. He's made his runs opening the batting and he's just irresistible with the form he's shown in the last few weeks."
The role of Smith in the selection process has also been under recent scrutiny, but Lehmann emphasised it was a case of consulting the captain without granting him the final say. "We take inputs from him, he's a pretty important player and you want the captain to have what he wants, within reason," Lehmann said.
"He doesn't have final say but he certainly gets brought into the conversation. The selectors are there to select. Steven gets a say and I'm working with Steve all the time. The other [selectors] see the games that we don't always get to see. It was a really tough selection, so we've got to make sure he's comfortable, selectors are comfortable and now it's a case of what I'd love to see is everyone getting behind the group of players and supporting them to play well for Australia. That's all we want."