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Cowan at the crossroads

Ed Cowan has one more chance to salvage his Test career.

The second Test, starting at Lord's on Thursday, will be Cowan's 19th consecutive appearance since he was elevated into the Australian team due to another Shane Watson injury and significant doubts over other candidates.

Cowan's golden domestic summer in 2010-11 put him in the right place at the right time.

But time is now running out and his place is in extreme jeopardy.

A golden duck and 14 in the first Test of the series are not sufficient in their own right to end a career, but Cowan's declining performances and his identical means of dismissal at Trent Bridge suggests he needs to find an escape clause soon.

Cowan passed 1000 runs during the second innings, but has only one half century in his past 13 starts.

An average of 31 suggests that he gets out of the blocks well enough but cannot convert them into the substantial innings the team needs to create winning opportunities.

Michael Clarke remains a supporter of the left-hander, but has lost his vote at the selection table and may not be able to hold out David Warner's return at Old Trafford in the third Test.

Clarke also defended Cowan's shot selection, particularly his ill-conceived drive at part-timer Joe Root in the over before tea on Saturday as Australia made a solid start to their run chase.

Cowan fell for a sucker punch by trying to thrash Root through the covers after the occasional off-spinner tempted him outside off stump.

"The selectors picked Ed," Clarke said. "I batted him at No.3 because he is a class player. Ed knows the way he plays best. That's the way the game goes.

"He's playing against spin, he's backing himself, he's playing with good intent.

"Obviously if that shot goes through cover we stand and clap, but if it doesn't, he nicks it and gets caught in slip and we ask those questions."

The most weighty question revolves around the composition of Australia's best top order.

Cowan was squeezed out of his opener's position as the selectors identified Watson and Chris Rogers as the players best equipped to combat England's potent pace battery.

That new partnership has shown signs of life, with Watson producing 13 and 46 at Trent Bridge, while Rogers looked as comfortable as any of the top six in his 16 and 52.

Usman Khawaja is in the wings, but is out of favour and will have limited opportunities to challenge.

Warner is the wild-card. Sent to Africa to bat for Australia A after his lack of cricket meant he was not considered to open at Trent Bridge, he won't be back in time for Lord's.

But England are wary of Warner's attacking ability while Clarke made it clear he was eager to have him in the first Test line-up.

Australia have had nine No.3s in the past 20 months, with Phil Hughes and Shaun Marsh the only two to have significant success.

"The selectors picked Ed. I batted him at No.3 because he is a class player." "Australian captain *Michael Clarke *