Australian cricket is in a state of panic after another shocking batting collapse gifted South Africa a comprehensive series victory in Hobart.
For the second time in nearly as many days, skipper Steve Smith fought while his teammates dropped like flies around him as Australia slumped to an innings and 80-run defeat at Bellerive Oval. Australia has never been whitewashed in a Test series on home soil, but it could become a harsh reality if Smith's embattled side doesn't recover next week in the third and final Test in Adelaide.
With losses to the Proteas in Perth and Hobart coming after a 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka, Australia have now lost five consecutive Test matches. In his assessment of his team's woeful performance in Hobart, Smith was fuming.
"I am embarrassed to be sitting here to be perfectly honest with you," Smith said. "Too many times we have lost wickets in clumps, and you are not winning any games of cricket when are you doing that. It is happening way too consistently for my liking. We are not being resilient, we are not willing to tough it out and get through tough periods. The boys have got to start being a bit tougher and getting in a grind and getting in a contest and try to build a few partnerships because right now, it is not good enough."
Contrary to some belief, Smith's captaincy is not the catalyst of Australia's rapid decline. Smith went undefeated in his first eleven Tests in charge, albeit against India, New Zealand and the West Indies. The real problem is player depth and, simply, a spate of poor performances from key players. But, if there were any questions about depth in Australian cricket, look away now: in his mere 16 matches in charge, Smith has been forced to endure almost as many changes to his Test side as Steve Waugh experienced throughout his entire tenure as national skipper.
After Smith's questionable tactics in the first Test in Perth last week, a match the Australians lost by 177 runs, former players and Channel Nine commentators Shane Warne and Michael Clarke criticised Smith's captaincy. However, former captain Allan Border came to Smith's aid in a column for The Daily Telegraph, saying that the players need to step up. There are no greater voices to support Smith than Border, who had to deal with underpowered and underperforming Aussie players in the late 80's and early 90's.
"If Steve Smith believes he isn't receiving the team that he wants, he needs to make sure that he does," Border said. "I know what he's going through, it's bloody hard. He should be telling those in charge; 'My head is on the chopping block next to our win-loss record, I'm the Australian captain and I need to be comfortable walking out with the team that I've got.'
"He can't stand for anything less. Not anymore."
With an unassailable 2-0 series lead with only next week's match in Adelaide to come, South Africa have now registered three consecutive series wins against Australia in Australia after winning in 2008-09 and 2012-13. It has come at relative ease for the touring South Africans, particularly in Hobart when they only needed to score 326 runs to complete a crushing innings victory.
The numbers that come from the Hobart match are simply staggering, all of which put this Australian side in unenviable company. The Aussies only faced 558 balls in the match, which is the second least in a Test at home in the last century. Australia lost their last eight wickets for 32 runs, which equals Australia's worst such collapse in history. 16 single-digit scores were registered by Australian batsmen in the match, also their joint-most in any Test. Australia scored 246 over both innings, registering their sixth lowest total ever in home Tests, with the most recent previous instance of the Aussies scoring lower and losing 20 wickets coming against England in Melbourne - 112 bloody years ago.
Quite simply, it's not good enough.
In Australia's defence, the South African pace attack has been of the highest quality, with Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and super-sub Kyle Abbott all taking big hauls. However, when other highly skilled pace attacks have charged in at Australian batsmen over the years, whether it be the West Indians, Pakistanis or even the Kiwis, they have found the Aussies to be stoic and hard to shift. Not this summer.
Australian batting collapses are becoming as common as death and taxes. The way Adam Voges threw away his wicket in the second innings was humiliating enough; for an experienced player of his quality to suffer such an embarrassing dismissal was difficult to watch, and it should be a major wake-up call to the Aussie selectors and executive board.
The Aussie way of 'sticking it out' has been eradicated to nothing in such a short amount of time, and it's hurting Smith. "I need players who are willing to get into the contest and get into the battle and pride in playing for Australia and pride in the baggy green - that's what I need," he said. "At the moment, it's not good enough. I'm quite tired of saying it, to be honest with you. It's happened five Tests in a row now, and for an Australian cricket team, that's humiliating."
Not since 1988 have Australia endured such a dreadful start to a home summer. Justifiably, they were taken apart by a dominant West Indies. Now, they are getting flogged by a South African side ranked below them at No.5 in Test cricket.