The answer is very simple in just six words – no Steve Smith or David Warner.
Despite the gallant efforts of Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon with both bat and ball, the Australians are heading for another heavy defeat today in the Boxing Day Test against India at the MCG.
But that wasn’t the case in the previous four Boxing Day Tests with Smith at the helm.
In 2014, it was a drawn Test against India with Smith scoring 192* and 14 – Warner 0 and 40.
In 2015, Australia beat the West Indies in four days by 177 runs with Smith posting 134* and 70* – Warner 23 and 17.
In 2016, Australia beat Pakistan by an innings and 18 runs – Smith 165*, Warner 144.
And last year was a drawn Test against England with Smith cracking 76 and 102*, Warner 103 and 86.
Tally that up and Smith has scored 753 Boxing Day Test runs as captain to average a massive 376.50 – Warner 413 to average a very healthy 59.
No Test team in the world could fire without its two best batsmen. India without Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara would suffer the same fate.
But all that ends on March 29 next year when Smith and Warner end their 12-month suspension for ball-tampering in time for the World Cup and the Ashes tour back-to-back in England.
They did the crime and the time.
That should be the end of it, but new Cricket Australia CEO Kevin Roberts is having trouble working out what to pay them on return.
There are alternatives – pay them what they did at the time of suspension of around $2 million, or pay them the lowest possible $286,000 and force the pair to fire and be paid bonuses on the way.
That is exactly what the independent investigation charged Cricket Australia with after the ball-tampering chaos of being arrogant, dictatorial and hypercritical, with a win at all costs culture to support the board’s corporate image.
All Roberts has to do is look at the current ICC Test batting rankings.
Even though Smith and Warner haven’t played a Test for nine months, Smith is still ranked the world’s number three after Kohli and Kane Williamson, with Warner at six after Pujara and Joe Root.
Usman Khawja is next best at 12, Shaun Marsh 38, Peter Handscomb 45, Tim Paine 46, Travis Head 63, Cameron Bancroft whose nine-month ball-tampering suspension ended yesterday is ranked 64, Matt Renshaw 66, Mitchell Marsh 70, Aaron Finch 72, Marcus Harris 83, Joe Burns 84 and Mitchell Starc 93.
And you can bet Pat Cummins will be ranked at the next ICC release.
So Cricket Australia has no option but to pay Smith and Warner what they were contracted to at the time of suspension, or the board can rightfully be accused of handing out additional penalties not stipulated at the time.
Cricket Australia has rightfully copped a barrage for its involvement in the ball-tampering, it cannot afford to cop another barrage for still being hypercritical.
Let’s face it, Australia cannot win the World Cup or retain the Ashes if Steve Smith and David Warner aren’t on duty.
And for that, they should be paid accordingly.