Shane Watson fell cheaply as Australia battled with the bat in their final innings before the Ashes starts on Wednesday.
The tourists slumped from 0-17 to 4-76 on Friday, day three of their clash with Essex in Chelmsford.
Michael Clarke was 44 not out at tea, having pushed his side to a total of 4-97 and lead of 245 runs.
Clarke’s importance to the XI has been downplayed over the past six months, given the form of his younger colleagues.
But the captain’s measured hand was hard to miss on Friday.
David Warner was the first to go, bowled by Jamie Porter in the fifth over.
Chris Rogers was dropped on four, but couldn’t cash in and was caught behind on 32.
Adam Voges and Watson later fell in consecutive overs, trapped lbw for one and six respectively.
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.
The poor scores aren’t a great preparation for the first Test against England in Cardiff.
But they also add further intrigue to the selection debate.
Mitch Marsh was 10 not out at tea, having made it back-to-back tons on tour with a polished 169 in the first dig.
Marsh also claimed the key wickets of Bopara and Jesse Ryder on Friday, when Watson failed to bowl.
Coach Darren Lehmann admitted last week that it would be a “tight” call as to whether Watson or Marsh plays in Cardiff.
Rogers was expected to return to the Test XI after missing two Tests against the West Indies due to concussion.
That is still likely to happen, but Lehmann could be tempted to leave the 37-year-old on the sidelines and keep Shaun Marsh at the top of the order.