By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia head to the third test against India desperately searching for answers to their batting woes and with fingers crossed that sidelined opener David Warner will be ready to slot back into the side in Sydney.
Australia's sub-par batting in the first test was glossed over by the thumping three-day win at the Adelaide Oval, but there was no hiding behind the bowlers in the eight-wicket loss in Melbourne that levelled the four-test series 1-1.
Skittled for 195 in the first innings and only reaching 200 in the second due to doughty tail-end resistance, Australia failed to record a half-century for the first time in a home test match since 1988 when they were beaten by a mighty West Indies team.
India's bowlers have adhered to simple plans -- attacking the stumps and setting leg-side fields -- but the home side's batsmen have looked bereft of answers.
Steve Smith, the world's top-ranked test batsman, admitted on Tuesday he had allowed Ravichandran Ashwin to "dictate terms" after being dismissed for a duck and one run by the spinner in the series.
Marnus Labuschagne, who piled up the runs against New Zealand and Pakistan in the last home summer, has also been stifled by India's disciplined attack.
Australia captain Tim Paine said after the defeat the team had become tentative in the face of top class bowling and needed to get on the front foot more.
Former skipper Ricky Ponting said they were batting like they were "scared" to get out.
"They’ve got to show some more intent,” he told a Cricket Australia website.
"They’ve got to get them quicker than two-and-a-half runs an over because what we’ve seen from Adelaide to here, if they’re trying to apply themselves and bat for long periods of time they haven’t been good enough to do that."
Warner has been included in Australia's 18-man squad for Sydney along with the uncapped Will Pucovski but neither are certainties to play.
Coach Justin Langer said this week that Warner was yet to get up to speed with his running, while Pucovski would be a huge risk due to his history of concussion problems.
As expected, opener Joe Burns was axed after his horror test in Melbourne where he made a total of four runs and appeared a nervous wreck.
If neither Warner nor Pucovski pass fitness tests, Australia may look to Marcus Harris, who was dropped during the Ashes last year after repeated failures, and persist with middle order batsman Matthew Wade as a makeshift opener.
India set up victory with a first innings 326, anchored by a sparkling century from stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, yet the result might have been different had Australia held their catches.
Having spilled seven at the MCG and reprieved Rahane twice, Australia's bowlers will demand better support in the field at the SCG when the third test starts Jan. 7.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)