England have lost their way in his absence, suffering 18 defeats, including a demoralising run of seven successive reversals in 2006.
Ashton has been accused in some quarters of taking a huge gamble on England's 2003 World Cup final match-winner, who has barely started 20 games for his club Newcastle during the past 38 months.
And while Wilkinson is looking forward to putting a catalogue of injuries and illness behind him, Ashton has no doubt the right call has been made.
Ashton said: "It is a logical selection for where English rugby is at the moment.
"I've been his mentor this season. I have seen him play four games, and every game he has played better than the last.
"He is a much better player now than in the 2003 World Cup final. His game understanding and his intelligence is at a higher level."
Wilkinson's 53rd England cap will arrive more than 1,100 days after the 52nd, but he appears fitter and hungrier than ever before.
"The game has changed a bit since I have been out, and I've seen a lot of rugby from up in the stand," Wilkinson said.
"It is a lot easier to see things watching from there, and it has given me a lot more empathy with the players.
"There is no difference in my approach mentally and physically from 2003. But I am a different player. I would hate to say I was the same player as three years ago.
"With age, I have gained a greater level of composure, and I see things and play the game more simply.
"What is important is to give it everything. It is that pride thing. It doesn't bother me what people write about me. I am trying to build 'part two' as a different person."