Michael Clarke received scant support with the bat as Australia reached 8-212 at stumps on day three of their final Ashes tune-up.
Shane Watson fell cheaply on Friday, while Mitch Marsh was dismissed for 37 as the allrounder showdown heated up in Chelmsford before the first Test.
Coach Darren Lehmann admitted last week it would be a “tight” call as to whether Watson or Marsh feature in Cardiff, where the series starts on Wednesday.
In this instance neither could help Clarke, who scored 77, rebuild after the visitors slumped to 3-65 against Essex.
Watson was trapped lbw for six, falling victim to a full toss from Dutch allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate.
Marsh, who made it back-to-back tons on tour with a polished 169 in the first dig, played on trying to hammer a ball from Matt Salisbury through the covers.
Watson did not roll his arm over on day three, having sent down six overs on Thursday.
Marsh removed centurion Ravi Bopara and dangerman Jesse Ryder to help his side take a first-innings lead of 148 runs.
By the end of it play it had swelled to only 360 runs.
Chris Rogers was dropped on four, but couldn’t cash in and was caught behind on 32.
Rogers was expected to return to the XI after missing two Tests against the West Indies due to concussion.
That is still likely to happen, given his extensive experience in England and long-standing partnership with David Warner.
But Lehmann could be tempted to leave the 37-year-old on the sidelines and keep Shaun Marsh at the top of the order.
Adam Voges and Watson later fell in consecutive overs.
The dismissals came on a docile pitch that the hosts amassed 414 on, with Tom Westley and Ravi Bopara both scoring tons.
Steve Smith was missing from the top order, but otherwise it was at full strength.
Clarke’s importance to the side has been downplayed over the past six months, given the form of his younger colleagues.
The captain’s calming influence was hard to miss on Friday, when the wickets tumbled around him.
Clarke will be frustrated he wasn’t there at stumps.
But the three-hour workout was reasonably valuable given the 34-year-old hadn’t spent so long in the middle for Australia since undergoing hamstring surgery last December.
Meanwhile, Ryan Harris was sent for further scans in London on Friday.
Medical staff are still assessing why Harris’ knee is still sore after playing last week’s tour game against Kent.