Australia captain Michael Clarke's Test career could be over if he fails with the bat during the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, Australian media said Tuesday, saying he looks 'lost' and knows the end is near.
Scores of 10 and three during Australia's eight-wicket defeat by England in the third Test at Edgbaston left Clarke with a meagre series aggregate of 94 runs in six innings at an average of under 19.
With Australia 2-1 down in the five-Test series, he must step up or face the fact that he should retire, cricket writers said.
"Clarke's issues extend beyond his batting," said the Sydney Morning Herald's chief sports writer Andrew Webster.
"His choices as captain without hardened and experienced heads like Brad Haddin and Shane Watson next to him in the middle are being questioned like never before.
"But it's with the willow that he desperately needs to turn the beat around."
Webster added that Clarke's face explained his issues more than his meagre run total.
"Maybe I've known Clarke and covered his career too long. Maybe it's obvious," he said.
"But his expression with each cheap dismissal is undeniable: it is a blank expression of utter bewilderment. He isn't annoyed but lost."
Clarke, 34, himself admitted that Australia have been "playing with 10 players" and Peter Lalor, cricket writer for The Australian, wrote that failure in the fourth Test in Nottingham starting Thursday "spells an almost certain end to his career".
"It's on his mind and he know in his heart that the end is near but like all greats he would like to go out on top," he said.
But he added that "Clarke is a champion and if he pulls out of this form slump, there is a possibility the team can win the series or retain the Ashes with a draw".
The Sydney Daily Telegraph noted that despite his form slump, selectors would be reluctant to axe Clarke or let him retire with a two-Test tour of Bangladesh following the Ashes series in October.
Clarke is a quality player of spin on what are expected to be dusty pitches in Dhaka and Chittagong, with the newspaper also pointing to a lack of quality players to replace him.
"Those quick to close the curtains on the out-of-form skipper might have failed to realise there's a two-Test tour of Bangladesh to follow," wrote Ben Horne.
"Even in Clarke's form slump, is there anyone else in Australian cricket, with the possible exception of Steve Smith, who plays spin better then the skipper?
"The experience and class of Clarke in Bangladesh will be hard to ignore."
If Clarke is axed, Usman Khawaja is seen as his most likely replacement.