Alternate captain Ajinkya Rahane led India to a dominant eight-wicket victory over Australia in Test Two, leveling the series 1-1 and capping an extraordinary turnaround after their record collapsed in the opener .
Rahane, deputizing during paternity leave from Virat Kohli, hit an unbeaten 27 in Melbourne – after a century in the opening innings – as India hit the meager goal of 70 for the loss of two wickets.
It capped a remarkable comeback for an Indian side desperate to make amends after losing to Adelaide by eight wickets when it posted its lowest score of 36 and was widely criticized at home.
And they bounced back without their superstar and stick pillar Kohli, who returned home for the birth of his first child.
“Really proud of all the players,” said Rahane.
“I want to pay tribute to newbies (Mohammed) Siraj and (Shubman) Gill, the character they showed after Adelaide’s loss was great to see. Character was important to us.
Kohli, looking at his home in India, tweeted his congratulations.
“What a victory it is, an absolutely incredible effort on the part of the whole team,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier for the boys and especially for Jinks (Rahane) who led the team to victory in an incredible way.”
Under the mild-mannered Rahane, India struggled hard to send Australia back for 195 in the opening innings, then posted 326 in response.
Australia resumed their second inning on day four with 133 for six with a two-point lead, and their hopes resting on 21-year-old rookie Cameron Green.
He made 45 as they battled 200 before caller Josh Hazlewood was the last man to fall before lunch.
Siraj took 3-37 with Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin catching two each.
Rahane and Gill, who turned 35, then saw India at home, but not for some nervous moments.
Mitchell Starc got a boost from out of form Mayank Agarwal, who made it five, which Tim Paine caught, then Pat Cummins grabbed Cheteshwar Pujara for three, edging out Green at the ravine.
He left India on the 19th for two before regaining their composure to seal the victory.
“Very disappointed, played poor cricket, sloppy cricket,” said Australian captain Paine.
“Let’s not take anything away from India, they forced us to make mistakes. They played wonderfully, we didn’t adapt as well as we would have liked.
“Disappointed as a batting group, but two tests left.”
Winner of the match Rahane
Australia slumped to 99 for six in the chase on Monday before Green and Cummins moved on to face the 18 overs and steer them towards the stumps.
Green showed glimpses of his magic and patience, cutting Ashwin off and leading Bumrah beautifully for four.
But in just his second test he was defeated by Siraj, caught by Jadeja as he sought to find the limit with a pull shot, ending a 146-ball stay.
Cummins survived on occasions 15 and 19, but when Bumrah took the new ball he eventually fell, gliding a rising delivery to Agarwal.
Starc was undefeated on the 14th with Nathan Lyon caught behind Siraj for three, and Hazlewood making 10.
Australia’s hopes rested on the last after their superior order failed to fire, revealing the fragile nature of their stick in the absence of injured David Warner.
Opener Joe Burns flopped again, out for four, to put his place on the squad for the risky third Test next week, while Travis Head, who made 17, also disappointed and the poor run of Steve Smith continued, left for eight.
Their problems came as India was a melon following Umesh Yadav’s calf strain on Monday, yet another setback for a team already missing Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.
But India’s weakened attack lived up to the occasion, with Bumrah at the top of his game and Siraj impressing, while seasoned spinners Jadeja and Ashwin constantly caused problems.
But it was Rahane’s grainy 112 that ultimately proved the winner.
He came down the street with his struggling team at 64 for three and, against one of the most powerful bowling attacks in the world, hit a 12th century test, one that experts have considered can -be her most important ever.
The third test is due to start on January 7 in Sydney.