Batting collapses are becoming part of a worrying trend for the Australian Test side. The bowlers have been delivering but the batsmen have failed to back them up.
The last two times South Africa came to Perth for a Test match- in 2008 and 2012- Australia bowled them out for less than 300. On both those occasions, Australia’s batsmen were unable to build on the good work of the bowlers, and South Africa fought back to win. Granted, the 2008 match saw Australia bat first and set South Africa a mammoth target of 414, which they chased down with six wickets to spare. But that could be put down as a statistical anomaly as only one other team has scored more than that to win a Test match- the West Indies chased 418 against Australia 5 years previously- though it provides context to a greater problem.
The more recent match in Perth gives a better summation of the problem. On that occasion, Australia skittled South Africa for 225, only to be routed for 163, giving all the hard earned momentum back to South Africa, who then scored 569 on a pitch that had flattened as Australia barely reached halfway in their pursuit of 632. South Africa were obviously wary of what was possible at the WACA- through their own experience- and made sure to put the result beyond doubt. Setting Australia 539 shows that they rememered that chase.
In recent years, Australia have lost matches against England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan, and India after bowling them out for less than 300 in the first innings.
It's one thing to lose a match to a side that bats first and piles on the runs, it’s an entirely different matter to bowl a side out cheaply then not follow through with the batting. Obviously, if the bowling is good or the wicket favours the bowlers, it makes it harder, but that just means better concentration and application is required from Australia’s batsmen. The great teams of the early 2000s used to bowl teams out cheaply, making the pitch look unplayable in the process, then follow it up with massive totals.
In the recent series in Sri Lanka, Australia bowled the hosts out for 117 in 34.2 overs, then only managed 203 in reply. By the time Australia batted again, the pitch was a minefield and Australia whimpered to 161 in their chase of 268. More patient batting in the first innings could have put the game beyond doubt. Australia were already mentally beaten by the time of the second Test and although Sri Lanka were bowled out for 281, Australia could only manage 106.
If Australia’s ambition of regaining the number one spot in Test cricket- and staying there- is to be fulfilled, the batsmen have to do more of the heavy lifting and support the good work of the bowlers.