Flops and fireworks: How Test hopefuls fared
THE opening round of the Sheffield Shield won't have firmed up the selectors' thoughts on who will fill the No. 6 and 7 in the Australian batting line-up.
But coach Darren Lehmann and selectors would've been pleased to see some outstanding performances from his Test stars, who blew out the cobwebs in stunning fashion ahead of the Ashes - with Mitchell Starc snaring career-best figures and a ten-wicket haul, while Usman Khawaja and David Warner were both in the runs.
The news was less encouraging when it came to the prospects of those vying for the two most open spots in the Australian team.
Runs were hard to come by for those pushing for the No. 6 spot - and the three leading options to fill the wicketkeeping role also failed to impress.
We run the rule over Australia's Test aspirants - highlighting who starred, who stunk and how the Australian team is looking ahead of November 23's Ashes-opening Gabba Test.
THE NUMBER SIX CONTENDERS
The most open race for a Test spot in recent memory, and nothing has been cleared up at all.
Glenn Maxwell has held onto a Test spot for the past four Tests, a run which included a breakthrough century against India, although he most recently batted at No. 5 against Bangladesh.
He's never played a Test on Australian soil and needs a decent score to convince selectors he deserves to retain his place - but those runs evaded him this weekend, as the 29-year-old notched scores of seven and 20 - the latter off just 17 balls.
His Ranchi ton will earn some goodwill from selectors, but that will wear off if he can't pass 50 when Victoria host South Australia next round.
Western Australian duo Hilton Cartwright (61, 38) and Shaun Marsh (63, 11) showed why they're among the best performed batsmen in the domestic scene against, admittedly, one of the weaker attacks in the country.
Of the serious contenders, they were the only ones to spend quality time in the middle.
Cartwright is the incumbent No. 6 and averages just shy of 51 in first class cricket - and as a steady seam-bowling option, he fills the all-rounder quota.
In what would be a concern to selectors, however, Cartwright wasn't called on to send down a single over for the Warrors - with Marcus Stoinis the preferred fifth option.
Stoinis finished with 0-20 from nine overs, but struggled with the bat - with his second innings 32 an improvement on his opening day 9.
Fellow Warriors Mitchell Marsh has been Australia's all-rounder of choice in recent seasons, to mixed reviews.
The 26-year-old has been handed the Western Australian captaincy this season and is a favourite of the selectors, but the Gabba Test may come too soon in his recovery from shoulder surgery earlier this year.
Marsh is back and batted aggressively in the JLT One-Day Cup, but won't be ready to bowl until the Boxing Day Test at the earliest.
He could be selected as a specialist batsman, but scores of 36 and 4 against Tasmania didn't leap off the page.
Daniel Hughes was one of the most controversial selections of the round, with the 28-year-old leapfrogging last year's Shield leading runscorer Ed Cowan.
Test captain Steve Smith justified Hughes' inclusion by saying the short-form star was being considered for a Test role in the future - and Hughes proved him right with a tough knock.
On a day one wicket where only Test opener David Warner prospered, Hughes dug in with a gutsy 57 from 101 balls and was seven not out when the winning runs were hit a day later.
Further elevation to the Test team would be a big step, but Hughes played the most impressive knock of all the candidates for the No. 6 spot.
His more fancied Blues teammates Kurtis Patterson (14 and a 19-ball duck) and Nic Maddinson (5, 0) - as well as South Australian hopeful Travis Head (8, 0) - all fell flat in their auditions.
The wicketkeeper spot is also wide open, in part because it is unclear exactly what the qualifying traits are which selectors are looking for.
Best bat? Best chat? Best gloves?
Regardless, incumbent Matthew Wade, favourite Peter Nevill and dark horse Alex Carey all knew the most valuable commodity this weekend was likely to be in the runs column.
All three came up short with their first chances.
On the seaming Adelaide Oval deck, both Nevill and Carey scrapped hard but didn't deliver.
Carey fought for his first innings 12, but was knocked over cheaply for four in the second dig, while Nevill had an offering of just 20 and was next in when NSW hit the winning runs.
Nevill's classy work behind the stumps is considered his trump card over Wade, but the veteran Blue came up with a bad blunder when he dropped a simple chance off Pat Cummins' bowling to gift Callum Ferguson a life.
Further west, Wade was knocked over for 1 and 6 at the WACA - where runs appeared easier to come by than the other venues around the country (until Tasmania's paltry final innings of 63)
Tim Paine, meanwhile, has been mentioned as a contender - largely due to his sharp glovework in the recent limited overs tour in Bangladesh - but he couldn't even get on the park, as he was named 12th man for Tasmania.
THE TEST CERTAINTIES
In good signs for Darren Lehmann, several Test stars flexed their muscles in impressive displays.
Queensland captain Usman Khawaja has had a troubling year to date - left on the sidelines during the four-Test tour of India before being given one forgettable Test in Bangladesh and then being banished once again.
But in Australia he's a different player, as he proved on a seaming Gabba wicket against a strong Victorian attack.
Khawaja topscored for Queensland in both innings, posting a first-innings 40 before his superb 122 - and notably was the only player to pass 50 in the match.
Australian vice-captain David Warner also produced a terrific, gritty knock on a tricky wicket - compiling a measured 83 against South Australia when few others were able to hang around.
Skipper Steve Smith was among those to struggle at the Adelaide Oval, trapped by Chadd Sayers for three in the first innings.
Warner's opening partner Matthew Renshaw posted modest totals of 17 and 16 against Victoria, while Test No. 5 Peter Handscomb recovered from a first innings 9 to hit a more robust 34, though neither player looked as settled as they did during their debut international summer last year.
Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, gave a great taste of what England can expect in a brutal spell late on Saturday night - sparking a Redbacks collapse by taking three scalps as South Australia lost 4-8.
Starc, and fellow Test seamer Pat Cummins, had been overshadowed in the first innings by former Test paceman Trent Copeland's 6-24.
But he made up for lost time with a devastating spell under lights, which included an unplayable, inswinging gem which beat the defences of Test hopeful Travis Head.
He doubled down on Sunday with another fearsome display to finish with career-best figures of 8-73 in the Blues' heavy victory.
NSW and Australia offspinner Nathan Lyon had little to do on a green seamer, but was tidy and effective in snaring 2-x.