A dejected Australian side following their 0-3 defeat to Sri Lanka © AFP
A dejected Australian side following their 0-3 defeat to Sri Lanka © AFP

Post their defeat in the Ashes 2010-11 at home after 28 long years, an intense review aimed to determine the shortcomings that plagued Australian cricket ascertained they ‘cannot bat, cannot bowl, and cannot field’. Keeping the outcome of the Don Argus committee in perspective, the completion of Australia’s humiliation in Sri Lanka puts the team — impudently dismantled from No. 1 spot in Test cricket — in similar situation. For all they like, Australia can keep on demolishing weaker sides around the world with utmost disdain in conditions they know how to play, but their diminishing overseas Test credentials do not support their claim to be considered as one of the best. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Sri Lanka vs Australia, 3rd Test at Colombo

Australia’s preparations for the three-Test series could not have been better, with their newest cricketers such as Joe Burns and Peter Nevill travelling to Chennai to train at the MRF Pace Academy and the team doing decently in the tour matches.

And as far as acclimatisation is in question, this Australian team has perhaps become the first such example in proving that irrespective of the time spent in a country for a buildup to a series, it stands for nothing if there is no substance, no gumption and no character in face of adversities when tide is against you.

That Australia has joined the league of teams, who remain excellent at home and impotent overseas was a fact established long ago, but this devastating scoreline that reads 3-0 against a young and talented cricket team is not going to have any mercy. No team deserves world No. 1 spot, at least, if it has lost 9 Tests on the trot in conditions that more or less remains the same, and what it proves is, Australia are far from being considered the best.

So, what went wrong for Australia? Almost everything. If there is one bright spot that Australia can derive from this series is the rise of Mitchell Starc, who, despite spending months away from top-flight cricket, went about his job as if he was always there. And those who have remained a part of Australia’s rebuilding process, such as David Warner, Usman Khawaja, and most importantly Nathan Lyon, have some serious questions to answer.

For a batsman as consistent as Warner, a solitary half-century does not even bring any consolation. Khawaja came onto the scene as a successor to Ricky Ponting in 2010, six years ago; but outside home, he is yet to be considered a threat. The biggest disappointment for Australia would not be the scoreline, but the categorical failure of their greatest off-spinner in history. Six years since his Test debut in Sri Lanka, Lyon still embodies that bowler with limited experience, who never leads the bowling attack even in the most favourable conditions.

The humiliation at the hands of India in 2013, thus, cannot be forgotten. No, there are no eerie similarities between the two whitewashes, but there certainly is a factor which no one in the Australian camp run away from. Back then, non-cricketing factors such as homework and disciplinary issues played a massive role. This time around, there was nothing wrong within the camp as far as focus and harmony are concerned.

None of the Sri Lankan bowlers gave away more than 3 runs per over, which is a harrowingly contrasting factor for the Australian team whose bowlers, including Starc, leaked more than their opponents on a consistent basis. Starc did manage to take 25 wickets and better the record set by Sir Richard Hadlee, but he would know all that stands for nothing if the team loses as badly as it has.

Keeping aside Australia’s victory in South Africa in early 2014 — wherein they had a bowling attack better than the hosts — there is a very little that they have done to be considered as world beaters. Josh Hazlewood extracted very little off the pitch, and so did the other spin partners for Lyon, Jon Holland and Stephen O’Keefe. The injury to O’Keefe was extremely unfortunate keeping in mind that he showed much better application and discipline than most of the top-order batsmen in the only Test he played.

Australian selectors carry as much blame as the players. Leaving out Adam Zampa, who had a terrific outing in the previous edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), can be said unimaginative and safety-first approach, but handing out a debut to another spinner who does not generate lethal amount of turn was somehow wrong. Holland, who featured in the last 2 Tests of the series, however, can turn into an asset for Australia if the management is willing to invest time and effort in the left-arm spinner.

There are a few batsmen knocking on the doors of the Australian selectors for a while, and among them is Cameron Bancroft. Infusing young blood at crucial junctures can be a masterstroke for selectors, but Bancroft being confined to the Australian pitches does not help him as well as the national side. It is only regressive that Australia’s ‘next-big-thing’ in red-ball cricket is not even a member of the touring party.

Australian batsmen have shown frailties against seam, swing and spin bowling, and have performed only on the favourable wickets that support bounce and pace. Versatility is a trait that is missing since long, but if the young men handed over the charge for next decade or so continue to be as feeble as they have been, Australian cricket will find itself stuck in the ignominy for time to come.

And there is no respite! Australia’s next Test assignments are at home against South Africa and Pakistan, and they will soon be back in the subcontinent for a four-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17 against India, in February-March next year. For Australia to head into the India series with a poor record in the subcontinent will not be easy at all, especially with stark questions hovering over their heads.

(Devarchit Varma is senior writer with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)