Test great Ricky Ponting hopes ex-England captain Alastair Cook doesn't get dropped midway through the Magellan Ashes Series but says the opener is just hanging in there in the twilight of his glittering international career.
Cook made 14 on Sunday – caught and bowled by Josh Hazlewood off a leading edge – to take his series tally to just 83 as Australia zeroed in on regaining the Ashes, needing just six wickets on day five to reclaim the urn.
Since he made 243 against the West Indies at Edgabaston in August, the 32-year-old has gone 10 innings without reaching 40 to cast doubt over his future in the Test team.
Ponting, who played an Australian record 168 Tests, singled out Cook prior to the series as a player whose best years were behind him.
But Cook said ahead of the third Test he wants to keep playing for England for the foreseeable future and Ponting hopes the selectors don't have to make the call when it's time for the left-hander to pull up stumps.
"He deserves to be able to finish on his terms," Ponting told cricket.com.au.
"One of England's greatest ever players and one of the world's greatest ever players.
"You'd think what he's done as a player; 150 games and nearly 12,000 runs and an average of 45 as an opener, it's a pretty amazing record.
"Hopefully it doesn't come to the point where he's dropped mid-Ashes.
"But, talking to a couple of English journos there will be mounting pressure on him now, especially after the way he was dismissed again today.
"You wind the clock back a couple of years and when I've seen him playing at his absolute best, that ball he got today he would've just worked wide of mid-on, probably for four off the front foot, not with both feet behind the crease line like he was today.
"There's obviously some demons going around in his head but I've always said it in this game you never write off champion players and he's certainly been a champion player."
Ponting says Cook's mindset looks to have shifted from attack to defence, which can mean danger for a top-order batsman.
"It looks to me like he's just hanging on a little bit," Ponting said.
"You look at some of his dismissals, a lot have been when he's really deep in the crease and trying to defend his stumps rather than getting out at the ball and hitting the ball.
"To me, it looks like he's trying not to get out rather than scoring runs and when you're in that frame of mind as a batsman I think you're in real trouble."
Cook is not the only England batsman to have struggled this series.
Captain Joe Root is averaging less than 30 through six innings, while his Australian counterpart Steve Smith has 426 runs at 142.
Ponting says Smith's utter dominance over Root has been a key factor in Australia sitting two-nil up and on the cusp of sealing the series at the WACA Ground.
"One of the big things is that (Australia's) captain has been able to stand up and lead from the front and be the leading run-scorer in the series so far," Ponting said when asked what the major differences have been between the two teams.
"I think that's a really big point in the series compared to what Joe Root has been able to do.
"It looks like Root has been under pressure right the way through the series.
"The Aussie bowlers got the better of him in Brisbane in the first game and haven't really let him get away since.
"Whereas Smithy made his mark on the series with one of his best hundreds ever in the first innings in Brisbane and that form has flowed over a little bit into Adelaide but certainly with the way he played here.
"He's led the team exceptionally well and led by example with the bat."
Ponting added: "The other two major reasons is the lack of penetration from the England attack compared to the penetration (Australia's) had with three fast bowlers and a quality spinner.
"They've been able to make an impact pretty much every time they've bowled.
"I was worried about England's penetration with the ball because I thought (Stuart) Broad and (James) Anderson were past their absolute best and I think that's probably been shown in the three Test matches so far."
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. 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