Ponting's side has lost four of its last seven Test matches
Beset by injuries and a loss of form by key players, Australia's cricketers were swept aside in the Melbourne Test by South Africa.
Graeme Smith's side won by a handsome nine wickets, even though the hosts had enjoyed such a dominant position after two days that few could contemplate anything other than a home win.
The result gave South Africa a 2-0 lead, with the final match to come in Sydney - and there are very real fears that the Australians could suffer a previously unthinkable whitewash.
It is only seven weeks since India beat Ricky Ponting's team by 172 runs in Nagpur for a 2-0 series victory, and Australia's long-established dominance in Test cricket is under serious threat.
The average age of our first-class teams is around 27, and that's a major problem. Some players are still earning nearly £50,000 playing for state sides at 31 and will never play for Australia
Former Test batsman Dean Jones
Australia have been the official world number one team for all but eight months of the last 13 years.
But the loss of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and others in the past two years has robbed them of players rated as all-time greats.
Is the current slump merely a blip or a major crisis? How will Australia fight back? And should Kevin Pietersen and his England team be getting their hopes up for the Ashes? To help us answer those questions BBC Sport spoke to four Australians.
DEAN JONES, who won 52 Test caps as a batsman, began his career when Aussie cricket was at its previous low tidemark, in the mid-1980s; former captain IAN CHAPPELL inherited a side which was also struggling in the early 1970s but never lost a series; JIM MAXWELL is a respected cricket broadcaster and has commentated on more than 200 Tests; GREG MATTHEWS is a former Test all-rounder.
What's been happening to Australian cricket in recent times?
"It's been coming for a while, it was always going to happen when Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne left - and it's probably taken a little bit longer than some of us thought. But it's come home to roost now and you look at the two results in this series, South Africa won by six wickets in Perth and nine wickets in Melbourne, and that's Australia's problem, they're struggling like hell to get wickets."
"We've lost Warne, McGrath and Adam Gilchrist - it takes time to replenish those stocks. In the Test match just gone, our team had 430 Test wickets to their 900. Australia's bowlers are very inexperienced, and I think it will be a whitewash by South Africa now, who have played very attractive cricket."
"Teams around the world are realising that Australia aren't quite the force they were. They are going through a period of change which will continue beyond this match, with Matthew Hayden's career nearly at an end, Brett Lee out through injury and Andrew Symonds also having a major injury. There's going to be a shift in personnel."
"It's not a crisis, we've just lost a couple of series against teams who are second and third in the ICC rankings. And we've never had great success against India in India. But I was disappointed with how we lost."
Does captain Ricky Ponting shoulder some of the responsibility?
IC: "Ricky Ponting had a very ordinary game as a captain in this last Test. He has lost two of his last three series and it could be three from four before they pick the team for England because they're going to find it very hard to turn it around in South Africa against a very confident line-up.
"He'd want to improve his captaincy on the game he had in Melbourne. If he keeps having games like that, then you've got to put a real query against his captaincy. He's obviously the stand-out batsman. The problem is you might have a very aggravated player on your hands if he loses the captaincy and he's still in the side."
DJ: "He's not used to losing. He's a smart cricketer and what's going on is not affecting his batsmanship. Normally he attacks like hell but he'll have to learn to defend a bit more. I still like his mentality in that he would prefer to try to win a Test, and is willing to throw away a Test in so doing. The potential replacement is obviously Michael Clarke. I think it's a bit too early for him, he's just starting to become a good player."
Matthew Hayden is in poor form. Should he have been dropped?
GM: "I really respect Matty, but he's spent the entire year struggling and that makes me think he's been a little bit fortunate. It might have been time for a change for the third Test."
DJ: "[Chairman of selectors] Andrew Hilditch has said he's in our plans all through 2009, but because the team is playing so badly it really exaggerates his problems. It's not as if he's getting out to nicks, it's caught at mid-wicket doing silly stuff. Hayden is 11th in the list of all-time Test batsmen so the selectors have to treat him with a fair amount of respect, but he is worrying them."
AUSTRALIA'S SLIDE IN TEST CRICKET
Calendar years 2006-2007: Australia played 14 Tests and won all 14 (100% success rate)
Calendar year 2008: Australia played 13 Tests, won five, drawn four, lost four (38% success)
"If you take your mind back to 2005, Matthew Hayden was trying to bully the bowlers early in the Ashes series and was having no success at all doing that. He's still trying to now, but he's aged a bit, he's not in the best of form and I think he's got to rein it in a bit.
"I'm surprised in a dead rubber that they haven't tried the young Phil Hughes - it would have been a good time to have had a look at him and let Hayden go back to domestic cricket, make a few runs and rebuild his confidence that way. Australia badly need him for the Ashes in 2009, but they need him in good form."
Do other changes need to be made, and if so who should be dropped, who comes in?
JM: "Phil Jaques, who's out injured, made a hundred in his last Test so you have to think he'll be coming back into the side at some point. They've still got [currently injured seamer] Stuart Clark but they do have a big issue about the spin bowling. They don't know which way to go, and there aren't too many alternatives. They've tried Jason Krejza, they've got Nathan Hauritz, they'll probably go back to Krejza."
GM: "I have been disappointed with some decisions, like taking Cameron White to India as a specialist bowler, then Krejza was dropped after his second Test in Perth having taken 12 wickets in his first in India, the fourth-best debut in history. That's hard to work out.
Greg Matthews rates New South Wales's Mark Cameron highly
"I see an enormous amount of talent for the selectors to pick from. Mitchell Cook at Sydney University, who bowls off-spin and bats, is about as good as I've seen. And if we're talking about players slipping up to Test match level, Western Australian off-spinner/batsman Marcus North rips it and gets a lot more runs than me. Dougie Bollinger is as good a fast bowler New South Wales have had since Mike Whitney and Geoff Lawson. Victoria's Dirk Nannes is an animal, he's ugly, you wouldn't want to face him. So there are a lot of options and I'm really confident.
"We've also got New South Wales opener Phillip Hughes and Victoria opener Chris Rogers who could both slip in, as well as [Western Australia fast bowler] Steve Magoffin and [Queensland fast bowler] Ashley Noffke. [Tasmania fast bowler] Ben Hilfenhaus can also bowl fast for Australia, and I think [paceman] Mark Cameron of New South Wales will play for Australia this year."
IC: "It's a good time for Brett Lee to take a break. He's got an injury which needs fixing anyhow; he's had the marriage breakdown which obviously caused him a lot of mental grief, he wasn't really ready physically for the India tour.
"They're saying he needs to rebuild his strength, I think this is the perfect time for him to go away and do all those things and clear his head. But they've got to stop urging him to try and bowl faster. The extra pace he once had has gone - he's at that age where you lose a little bit of pace. He's got to adapt to being a bowler who does things at a slightly reduced pace."
Is there anything inherently wrong with the system in Australia?
DJ: "The average age of our first-class teams is around 27, and that's a major problem. The biggest problem is some players are still earning around Aus$100,000 (£48,000) playing for their state sides at the age of 31 and will never play for Australia. We need to have a moratorium or impose some sort of quota to say we must have two players of 21 or younger in each team and then say that is you haven't played for Australia by the age of 30 go and find a job.
"Of the revenue Cricket Australia generates, around $20m dollars is paid to international players, and $16m goes to the first-class cricketers. I think that figure of $16m should be more like $6m and they should put more money towards the international players.
"The main issue now is this: will young kids keep going on to play for Australia, or they will go on and do other things? Out of 120 contracts given out to first-class players, six are given to youngsters of 21 or younger.
"So a young kid comes along at 17, 16 years of age. He can play soccer, football or cricket, and he has to make a decision. That's the pressure we have got here, all of the three football codes we have here - and soccer - are putting a lot of pressure on cricket. This has changed in the past 15 years, kids have to make a decision which is tough because most kids don't know."
GM: "Cricket Australia knew that Shane wouldn't be around forever and you might have thought they'd have had people doing things. I don't know why Terry Jenner's only employed for 50 days a year. We're pretty average domestically and Cricket Australia are directly responsible. Why aren't they doing anything about it? They've got plenty of money in the bank to spend on making a very important weapon a little bit more pointed, but they've spent it all on Terry Jenner working for 50 days.
"As for the seamers, it was scary what Troy Cooley did for the England fast bowlers and I can't understand why he's not doing it for Australia."
IC: "There's no quick fix here. I reckon a big part of a problem is a few years ago you had guys like Allan Border saying we've got to get used to 28-year-olds making their debuts for Australia - but that's rubbish. We have got into the habit of that, and we've got to get out of it but it's going to take a long time to turn around."
What does the future hold for Australia? And what will happen in The Ashes?
JM: "Under Ponting, Australia will still be able to marshal a competitive side; it's not as if the tide has turned completely, irrevocably, but it is a major shift. They've still got some fine players but they have to re-cast their bowling attack and their openers. They are vulnerable, they're unsettled and they're certainly rattled. Anyone in England should be overjoyed."
IC: "The public and the media in Australia almost demand success from their team. It's getting plenty of headlines and plenty of talk and will continue to do so. If you go back to the 1980s, Australia had a really down period and I think we're headed for another one of those at the moment."
DJ: "The Ashes is miles away, I don't want to think about it. I'm just enjoying the transformation, it's good to get football off the back pages. Rightly or wrongly, I think it's good for our game."
GM: "I'm not thinking about England next summer, I'm thinking about the third Test against South Africa."
Ian Chappell and Jim Maxwell were speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Greg Matthews was interviewed by Ben Dirs, Dean Jones was interviewed by Oliver Brett.