If you've got the axe hanging over your head always it is really hard to relax and play your natural game - Steve Waugh
These are harsh times for Australian cricket and Darren Lehmann's recent warning shot could do more harm than good in a time like this. "Blokes are missing straight ones, that doesn't help. We have to learn from our mistakes. If they don't learn, we'll find blokes that will," warned Darren. Perhaps he was just frustrated that Australia from 147 for one went on to lose the all-important Chester-le-Street encounter by 74 runs, chasing 299.
The dismissal of Usman Khawaja sparked a collapse that is painstakingly hard to explain.
Playing for their places
Half of Australia's batting problems are down to the fact that Khawaja, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin and even Shane Watson - as Lehmann puts it - are playing for their places in the team. That kind of pressure is never going to allow them to play to their best - as Waugh mentioned above.
Khawaja's lack of absorption, after he has settled, has once again fueled the 'who after Ponting at No. 3?' debate. He averages 25.13 from nine Tests, with only two half-centuries. He has been dismissed 10 times between 21 and 65 (his highest score).
The Pakistan-born left-handed batsman was brought in to replace another leftie Ed Cowan at Lord's, and it looks like that's not working either.
So, who else?
Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Rob Quiney (remember him), Phillip Hughes, Michael Clarke and Cowan had all interned for the No. 3 spot, after Ponting left, but failed to convert it into a permanent job. These unusual suspects are yet to score a century at the pivotal spot.
A No. 3 is someone who is strong-minded, prepared to hang around, sturdy, capable of handling the storm if an early wicket falls - and then you robotically think of Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting. The reliability factor of these greats is something that has throughly eluded the current No. 3 Khawaja.
So, who's to blame?
The batsman? The management? Big Bash (the punching bag) that plays havoc with methods required for the traditional format? Take your pick.
A few facts are irrefutable. The Ashes is gone. Ponting's not coming back. The best Lehmann and his men can do is to identify the 'real' talent (in this case Khawaja or maybe Hughes) and give them some time/guarantee considering the lack of stability up the order.
You can't have someone at number 3 not sure of playing the next match and scoring big hundreds at the same time.
In Khawaja's defence
In his defence, poor old Usman is only 26. He has earned his place in the eleven on the back of a solid display in domestic cricket for New South Wales. The talent is obviously there.
Comments such as 'No-one's guaranteed (their place). Apart from probably Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers' will only make matter worse. It's no good relentlessly chopping and changing the team for not doing their 'homework', picking up bar fights etcetera.
The recent comments by Daily Telegraph veteran Scyld Berry that Usman was in the Test team as a result of 'Australia's experiment with their Asian immigrant population' is enough to earn him a place for the Oval Test. But the axe will still be there, hovering in the atmosphere and waiting to slam down at another failure.
Note: We are not even talking about Shane Warne's and Mike Hussey's replacements yet.