Melbourne:Captain Ricky Ponting still backs Matthew Hayden to return to form but the media here predicted that the out of form opener is almost certain to get the boot if Australia lose the second Test and the series against South Africa here.
Hayden fell for just eight to his old nemesis Makhaya Ntini in Australia's first innings at the MCG which had been the hunting ground for the Queenslander.
Before this Test and since recovering from an Achilles injury, Hayden has scored just 282 runs at an average of 23.5 in seven matches. And his tally from six innings this summer stood at just 56 Test runs at 9.33 average.
If Hayden fails again in the second innings or Australia lose the match and the series - first time at home soil after 1992-93 - Hayden will almost certainly have played the last of his 101 Tests and will not be there at the SCG for the third Test, which starts next Saturday, the media said. Captain Ricky Ponting admitted Hayden's results were a matter of concern.
"I've watched him closely this week and even the way he started (the innings), he's looking particularly sharp. "He hasn't got the runs that he would have hoped for and that we would have hoped for, he'll get another opportunity in the second innings and hopefully he can grab on to that one with both hands," Ponting said.
Former Test captain Mark Taylor said the big Queenslander had lost touch at an alarming speed.
"Matthew Hayden in good form would hit that ball through the covers. It's a cruel game batting in the top order.
"Four or five Test matches ago that ball would have whistled through covers. Now his confidence is down and there is discussion about whether he should be in the side or not," Taylor was quoted as saying by 'Herald Sun'.
The media said Hayden's sacking or his retirement is imminent unless he plays a big second innings or Australia win the match at the MCG to level the three-match series after the home side lost by six wickets in the first Test at the WACA.
"Hayden failed again, this time it was in the cauldron of the MCG, the very stage where he has stood so imposingly tall, summer after summer. Only sympathy for symphonies past or a minor miracle in the second innings will send him to Sydney for the third Test.
"The great man may force a stay of execution if he performs in his next dig, but if Australia loses here and he does no better there is little hope of a last-minute reprieve. There was no more glory left in Hayden's die. The odds had shifted against him, the bat twisted in his hands.
"The Test great is falling silently, slowly and inevitably, like a giant of the forest. It is terrible and compelling to watch. The crash, when he hits the ground, will reverberate for some time to come and has the selectors bracing themselves," 'The Australian' wrote.
After Don Bradman, Hayden is the best performed batsman of all time at the MCG He has six Christmas 100s here and an average of 76.57 before his eight. But his latest failure at the hallowed ground heralds his time is up, the media said.
"The beleaguered opener's future now hinges on the result of the Boxing Day Test. The prospects of the big opener batting on past the South African series appear bleak," said 'Daily Telegraph'.
"The Queenslander's decline began in India in October and continued with stuttering, uncertain and all-too-brief innings. The 101-Test veteran again looked a man caught between wanting to attack and defend," said the 'Herald Sun'.
"It appeared the shot of a frustrated man who had lost confidence so badly that swinging wildly seemed like the only way out of his slump."