By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane stepped out of Virat Kohli's shadow with an inspiring century on Sunday as India's batsmen banished their horror 36 in Adelaide to take control of the second test against a profligate Australia on day two.
Rahane, left to rally India after Kohli's departure in the wake of the Adelaide humiliation, stamped his authority with an unbeaten 104 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, driving the tourists to 277 for five before rain brought stumps early.
They have a lead of 82 runs in reply to Australia's first innings 195, and all the momentum on a flattening pitch as they look to level the four-test series after defeat in the opener.
Rahane was reprieved on 73 when dropped by Steve Smith in the slips, and again on 104 when Travis Head coughed up a diving chance on the final ball of the day, but it was a captain's knock of the highest quality by the soft-spoken 32-year-old.
He had pulled India from early peril on a muggy, overcast day and with Ravindra Jadeja (40 not out) built a 104-run partnership that spanned the final session.
Standing firm against a belligerent pace attack when the second new ball arrived, Rahane cut paceman Pat Cummins to backward point for four to bring up his 11th test century.
He raised his bat in an understated celebration as Indian fans in the socially-distanced crowd of 23,841 roared.
It capped a stunning turnaround from the farce at Adelaide Oval, where he ran out his captain Kohli in the first innings and was then out for a duck as India slumped to their lowest ever test innings total.
None of his team mates made double figures in that second innings horror show, but at the MCG Rahane found willing support in a rejigged lineup with Jadeja, debutant opener Shubman Gill (45) and recalled wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant (29) making telling contributions.
"The chat in the team was that if we have to win this match, we need partnerships," said Gill, who was dropped twice during his 65-ball knock.
"We now have a century-plus partnership (Rahane and Jadeja). We hope they can stretch it past 150 and make it as long as possible."
Tim Paine's Australia were left to rue a poor day in the field, having let Rahane and India off the hook after reducing the tourists to 64 for three early on.
Cummins removed Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara (17) in a searing five-ball salvo in the morning but Hanuma Vihari (21) and Pant warded off a collapse in tandem with Rahane.
Pace spearhead Mitchell Starc took his 250th test wicket when he had Pant caught behind before tea but the rangy left-armer finished the day tearing his hair out.
Taking the second new ball after tea, Starc soon coaxed a nick from Rahane that a slow-reacting Smith dropped above head-height in the slips.
Starc also sent down the last delivery that pinged off Rahane's glove and which Head looked to have caught before it popped out of his hands as he lay on the turf.
"I think the last ball pretty much summed up our day. It was not our best day, not our worst," a deflated Starc told reporters.
"We created a fair few chances but unfortunately couldn’t hang on to those half-ones. 'Jinksy' (Rahane) has batted pretty well throughout the day there."
Rahane strode off with Jadeja a survivor as a cold front swept over the ground. Australia trudged off fuming, with work to do on day three to prevent India batting them out of the test.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)