The Australian team found themselves in a precarious position at 16 for 4 after dismissing Pakistan for 264 in response to the home team’s 318.
Facing adversity, Marsh and Smith knuckled down, forging a potentially game-saving 153-run partnership. By the end of day three, the hosts had reached 187 for 6, with Smith departing for 50 off 176 balls in the final over, and Alex Carey standing unbeaten on 16.
The trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mir Hamza claimed three wickets each. A pivotal moment came when Abdullah Shafique missed a routine catch in the slips when Marsh was at 20, altering the potential narrative of the game.
Although Marsh fell just short of a well-deserved century, an outstanding one-handed diving catch at slip by Agha Salman finally dismissed him.
“Obviously that one hurts at the end,” Marsh said of Smith’s dismissal. “But from 16 for 4, if you’d told us we’d have a 240-run lead at the end of the day, we’d take that.
“It’s evenly poised,” he added. “As we saw, I think there’s still enough in the wicket, so add a few more runs tomorrow and we’ll give it our all.”
After Cummins took 5 for 48 and Nathan Lyon 4 for 73 to dismiss Pakistan, Australia needed to negotiate a tricky 15 minutes of the morning session.
But Usman Khawaja was out for a duck second ball, caught behind by Mohammad Rizwan off bowling spearhead Afridi. The same combination struck again when Marnus Labuschagne edged down the legside on five as the hosts slumped to 6 for 2 at lunch.
When they returned, David Warner let rip with a drive to the boundary off Afridi, but he didn’t last, dragging a Mir Hamza ball onto his stumps on six.
He received a standing ovation as he walked off for the last time as a batsman at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with the third Test in Sydney set to be the last of his long career.
Things got worse for the hosts when Travis Head was bowled by Hamza’s in-swinging yorker next delivery to leave Australia in disarray at 16 for 4.
But Marsh saw off the hat-trick ball and along with Smith dug in to take the sting out of the attack.
When Aamer Jamal came on, Marsh slammed three boundaries in four balls to further relieve the pressure before the missed chance by Shafique.
Smith played a crucial supporting role, taking 101 balls for his first boundary before reaching a gritty 40th Test half-century.
“This was a big, big opportunity,” Pakistan great Waqar Younis said on commentary duties of the Shafique miss. “This might be the difference between winning and losing this game.”
Starting the day at 194 for 6, Pakistan faced the aftermath of an energetic spell from Cummins during the final session on Wednesday, leading to a collapse from 124 for 1. Once again, the Australian skipper played a pivotal rol.
Rizwan, despite a confident start with 13 added to his overnight 29, succumbed to the crafty Cummins. The wicketkeeper-batsman was lured into a drive that found its way straight to Warner, who had recently shifted from slip to cover.
This breakthrough disrupted a 45-run partnership with Jamal, who had started to play attacking shots. Afridi, the new partner, managed to strike four boundaries before falling victim to Lyon’s spin, dismissed lbw for 21.
Jamal showcased good form, hitting the ropes three times in six balls, concluding with an unbeaten score of 33. Cummins secured his fifth wicket by bowling Hasan Ali for two, while Lyon had Hamza stumped for the same score, completing Pakistan’s innings.