On Saturday, a mate took his girlfriend out for birthday brunch at the same time David Warner and Joe Burns walked to the middle in Hobart. By the time they returned home, Australia had been bowled out for 85.

On Tuesday, two former Australian Test players checked the scores to see the team were still two wickets down on the fourth morning before heading into work meetings. By the time the pair broke for lunch, the Test match was over.

These are but two examples of how far the batting cancer in Australia's Test team has spread. A collapse of 10 for 83 in the third Test of the series in Sri Lanka was noticed by some, being the third defeat in a row. But those of 10 for 86, 10 for 85 and 8 for 32 so far against South Africa are disturbing the rhythm of Australian life at a time when vast swathes of the community expect to be sitting down to watch the cricket. It is, quite literally, beyond a joke.

A problem of this magnitude stretches beyond the players immediately concerned to affect the rest of the team, the support staff, coaches, selectors, management, the Cricket Australia board and the sporting public at large. Right now, Australia's batting is driving down the value of the game in this country - a rude shock to those administrators who have at times made the team's performance subservient to the "bigger picture" of growing the game.

There was nothing particularly unusual about the way Australia's batsmen folded at Bellerive Oval. A poor choice of shot by Usman Khawaja ended a partnership with Steven Smith, the new man Adam Voges was placed under immediate pressure, and once he was out the rest fell apart like a slow-cooked lamb leg off the bone.

The only salient differences from other days were the fact that the short ball did as much damage as deliveries probing a length around off stump, as South Africa's pacemen recognised the best way to utilise the indentations left in the Hobart pitch by their spells on day one when the surface was still fresh. Voges and Callum Ferguson both fell when trying to leave shortish deliveries, while Peter Nevill was out fending at a Kagiso Rabada throat ball, in a dismissal that could have been from any number of West Indian victories in the 1980s.

It is beyond doubt that the South Africa seam and swing attack has been of the highest quality, as demonstrated by the present career averages of Vernon Philander (21.67), Kyle Abbott (21.83) and Rabada (22.75). But it is equally true that when other highly skilled pace ensembles have charged in at Australian batsmen in the past, whether it be the West Indians, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, or Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, they have found the baggy greens harder to shift.

That's what Smith referred to in an impassioned address after the match. "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, for an Australian cricket team that's humiliating."

Something that has clouded Australia's batsmen over the past five matches is a state of conflict between the philosophy that informs their approach and the match scenario in which they find themselves. Notions of driving the game forward, being proactive and entertaining are second nature to the team and the coach Darren Lehmann, but as one former player has put it, "you have to earn the right to play that way".

Intriguingly, there was little identification among some members of the team for the way JP Duminy and Dean Elgar dug in on day three of the Perth Test. They did not score at a rate deemed attractive to the public, but did as much as anyone, in their understated way, to decide the outcome of the series.

Yet the overwhelming body of evidence now before everyone connected to Australian cricket is that this team is not good enough to attack at all costs, as much as they would like to do so. Basics, and stubborn application, must be rediscovered. "We're only driving a game if we're in a position, to be perfectly honest and we haven't been for a while now," Lehmann said. "We've got to stay in long enough to create those chances and put pressure on the opposition and we haven't been able to do that.

"South Africa have been driving the game barring day one of the Perth game and we had an opportunity there and we didn't take it. That's probably happened in the past few Test matches - even in Sri Lanka we had a couple of opportunities to grab the game and didn't. It's about these young guys getting better about grabbing the game and taking it from there."

Unquestionably, Australian cricket must refocus on the defensive basics of batting, and also on ensuring players are as focused, prepared and energised as possible when the time comes to pull on the national team kit. South Africa's cricketers did something similar earlier this year, following an 18-month lull that followed the 2015 World Cup won by Australia at home. What they have now achieved is a strength in depth that Smith, Lehmann and the selectors can only dream about, without anything like the same budgets.

After play, the Australians met with the chief executive James Sutherland, the team performance chief Pat Howard, and a quintet of former playing luminaries in Mark Taylor, Shane Warne, Ian Healy, Michael Slater and Tom Moody. That too, provided a reminder of how far this batting cancer has spread, for continued problems will affect the jobs of the administrators and also the salaries of the commentators - a new round of broadcast deals is to be decided over the next year. Chronic batting troubles could reduce the money available to the game.

A third example of how Hobart's events are spiralling ever outwards could be found on the boundary's edge at Bellerive an hour or so after the final wicket fell. A man had picked up his primary school-aged grandson from school to take him to see the cricket, but there was none to see. Instead they were left to wander around an empty stadium, as South Africa's winning players caroused in the middle of the ground.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig