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The 34-year-old champion batsman, probably making his last Test appearance on Australian soil, slammed an unbeaten 124 to notch up his 39th ton and steer the visitors to a comfortable 309 for five at close on a keenly contested opening day.
Tendulkar, who had scored an unbeaten 154 in the acrimonious Sydney Test, gave another stunning exhibition of strokeplay to pull the team out of the pits after the visitors were reduced to 156 for four at one stage.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (6) was giving Tendulkar company at stumps after the Indians elected to bat first at the Adelaide Oval which has traditionally seen big first innings totals being posted.
Virender Sehwag (63) and the stylish VVS Laxman (51) were the other notable contributors but both would be disappointed not to have converted their starts into bigger knocks on a good batting track.
The Indians were in a spot of bother at 156 for four with Sehwag, makeshift opener Irfan Pathan (9), Rahul Dravid (18) and Sourav Ganguly (7) back in the pavilion but Tendulkar and Laxman salvaged the situation with a 126-run fifth wicket partnership.
The visitors, desperate to level the four-match series 2-2, opted to go in with a five-pronged bowling attack by dropping struggling opener Wasim Jaffer and bringing back spinner Harbhajan Singh.
The masterly century from one of the greatest batsman of all time has so far spanned 281 minutes and Tendulkar has hit 10 fours and three sixes from 172 balls of vigil.
He walked in to bat just before lunch and stayed put for the rest of the day, providing the glue which India sorely needed after its other batsmen failed to come to the party.
Unbeaten on nought at lunch, Tendulkar soon showed his intent by thumping Brett Lee down the ground and smacking Johnson for three fours in one over.
Tendulkar took a particular liking for Brad Hogg and repeatedly came down the track to hit him in deep corners of the ground, including a slog-sweep for a six over midwicket.
The master batsman completed his half-century with a clip on the onside and had faced just 77 balls and hit five fours when the landmark arrived.
Unfortunately, Tendulkar did not receive much support from the other end for most of the day except Laxman.
The Hyderabadi stylist batted well but he also did not make the most of a reprieve when he was let off on 37 by wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps off the irrepressible Brett Lee.
Tendulkar completed his century in style in the final session, slamming left-arm spinner Michael Clarke for a six and a four off successive balls to raise his arms in triumph.
The Mumbai batsman never let his concentration waver even when batsmen at the other end were making a hash of a good setting.
Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman wasted a good opportunity on a flat deck as India looked for the runs which would give them the edge in this decider.
India showed their intent by fielding five frontline bowlers, including two spinners, and all appeared to be running their way when openers Sehwag and Pathan put on 34 runs for the first wicket in seven-odd overs.
India then batted with strange ineptitude and provided wickets to Australia all through the day.
Mitchell Johnson broke through twice in the first session when he had Pathan and Dravid edging catches behind in the slip cordon.
Johnson bowled a long spell of nine overs at a stretch and was more impressive than he has ever been in the present series.
India lost two more wickets in the middle session as Sehwag tried to cut a delivery too close to his body while Sourav Ganguly was dismayed to be ruled out by a delivery which he tried to sweep from the stumps.
India, 89 for 2 at lunch, added 98 runs in the second session and no less than 120 in the final session of 33 overs.
The figures do not quite reflect the hostility with which Lee bowled throughout the day, picking up two wickets for 62 runs and taking his haul of scalps in the series to 21.
His spoils included the wicket of VVS Laxman who was startled by a bouncer, took his eyes off and the delivery flicked his gloves on way to the wicketkeeper.