Rain thwarted South Africa’s hopes of building their 86-run lead in the second test against Australia on Sunday but a bigger deluge of criticism fell on the home side following their chaotic batting on day one in Hobart.
Australia’s first innings dismissal for 85 , their lowest test total at home since 1984, rang alarm bells around a nation that, for all its experience of such failures overseas, remains far less comfortable with them occurring in its backyard.
“Cape Town, Birmingham, Nottingham, Galle, and now Hobart. Like falling cities in a losing war, the scenes of Australia’s cricket disasters have come to our doorstep,” Malcolm Knox wrote in Fairfax newspapers on Sunday.
“The geography of decline presents a case that cannot be denied. In Australia’s case, the team failures have become frequent enough to suggest that the decline is irreversible.”
The Bellerive blow-out followed Australia’s dismal collapse in Perth, where they lost 10 wickets for 86 runs to squander a dominant position before crumbling to a 177-run defeat.
Captain Steve Smith, with an unbeaten 48, was the sole batsman to defy the Proteas’ marauding pace attack on a tricky wicket in Hobart. Joe Mennie, a debutant paceman, was the team’s second-highest scorer with 10.
Since the 3-0 whitewash in Sri Lanka, where Australia were skittled for 106 and 183 in the second test defeat in Galle, coaches and former players have lined up to urge the team’s struggling batsmen to play their ‘natural game’.
But barring the skipper, there has been scant evidence that their natural game can stand up to the rigours of a quality attack on a testing wicket.
“The next away Ashes hardly bears contemplating. Today (Saturday) at Bellerive was as close as you can get to English conditions,” Andrew Faulkner wrote in The Australian newspaper.
Pugnacious opener David Warner played his natural game and it delivered his wicket for the cost of one run when he slashed needlessly at a wide ball and edged to the wicketkeeper.
In the heart of the maelstrom at 17 for four, Callum Ferguson ran himself out, prompting his brother to storm out of the terraces in disgust, having flown in from England to watch his 31-year-old sibling’s long-awaited test debut.
The tail were also complicit, leaving Smith stranded after losing their wickets cheaply with rash strokes.
Head coach Darren Lehmann conceded the team’s batting was in “crisis”, while Smith, behind closed doors, read his team mates the riot act.
“We all were (disappointed),” paceman Mitchell Starc, who was dismissed for four with a loose drive to gully, told state radio ABC on Sunday.
“The message from Smithy was that ... everything we’ve spoken about has not translated into actions or results on the field.
“We’ve just got to be better, we’ve got to find a way to grind.
“One thing he said was you’ve got to be happy to score ugly runs sometimes.
“You don’t have to look good doing it.”
Australia will again hope for rescue from their bowlers on Monday, when Temba Bavuma (38 not out) and Quinton de Kock (28 not out) resume with South Africa on 171 for five.