Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has suggested that the England dressing room is "soft" and Joe Root has looked like "a little boy" in charge of the side. England relinquished the Ashes with an innings defeat in Perth earlier in the week and are battling to stave off another whitewash.
Root took over from Alastair Cook as Test captain in the summer, winning series against South Africa and West Indies, but has been unable to oversee an improvement in England's form in Australia - where they have now lost eight Test matches in a row. His own form has also been poor, with just two half-centuries in six innings.
Ponting suggested that Root needed to be more assertive as a leader, even if that goes against his more laidback inclinations. "Joe seems like he is under the sort of extreme pressure that he has never felt before, which is what you would expect in an Ashes contest," Ponting said.
"Everything about it is more intense than anything else you play. Spotlight and scrutiny is completely different. Even how he is addressing the media - I know he is not too forthright or too on the front foot [by nature], but the way he addressed things last week, it just seemed he was really quiet and too shy to say too much. I think they need him to step up big time.
"The way he answered a lot of the questions after the game last week, and almost the Brisbane game as well, he seemed almost like a little boy. You need to be more than that as a leader, especially when things aren't going well. Even if it is not natural to you, sometimes you have to put on a different face and stand up for what you think is right and what you believe in. Not only inside the dressing room but outside it as well. For me, it just looks like it has been a little bit soft, if anything."
With England struggling to deal with various off-field controversies - from Jonny Bairstow's "headbutt" greeting of Cameron Bancroft to Ben Duckett pouring a drink over James Anderson - Ponting felt the players had let Root down.
But he added that some of Root's dismissals betrayed the weight on his shoulders. Root has managed just 176 runs at 29.33, with a high score of 67, and was caught driving at Nathan Lyon's first ball in the second innings in Perth, with England attempting to wipe out a 259-run deficit and keep the series alive.
"To be honest, I think he has been under pressure right from the start because of things that have been happening off the field," said Ponting. "To me, what those things show was a complete lack of respect for him as captain. There is always a bigger picture out there. If you are found out doing the wrong thing, it doesn't just impact you, it impacts your captain.
"And, to me, he just looks like he was under pressure before the first ball was bowled. Look at some of the shots he's played, it looks as though something is playing on his mind. In the first innings in Adelaide and second in Perth. They are not the sorts of shots you would expect from one of the best players in the world. And not someone who is trying to lead from the front. They seemed pretty lazy, pressure shots."
Ponting, who captained Australia to a 5-0 victory over England in the 2006-07 Ashes, said that Root and the coach, Trevor Bayliss, had to get more out of an under-performing squad - even if that meant being harder on the players.
"Listening to him post-game in Perth, and Trevor does the same thing, where they keep talking about how good they have been and how competitive. I am not seeing that at all," he said. "They haven't played any cricket that has put them a long way ahead in the game. They have played cricket that is trying to sneak ahead in the game.
"When you consider they have won all three tosses, lost by 10 wickets in Brisbane, everything that could have gone their way in Adelaide went their way and they lost by 120-odd runs and then an innings and 40 runs in the next Test. They have been completely blown away and blown off the park. Unless you can find some drastic ways to get better, I'm not sure how they are going to improve."