Lunch Australia 199 for 4 (Labuschagne 60, Khawaja 47, Salman 2-27) trail Pakistan 313 by 114 runs
Travis Head and in-form Mitchell Marsh survived a tricky 20-minute period before lunch with the match evenly poised. Australia will be eying a lead on a SCG surface that is expected to deteriorate as the match wears on with the expanding rough patches set to be particularly helpful for spin.
Retiring opener David Warner and Usman Khawaja were the only wickets to fall on a shortened day two reduced to only 46 overs due to bad light and rain.
Resuming at 116 for 2, Australia made slow progress against disciplined bowling from Hamza and veteran seamer Hasan Ali. Much like on a shortened day two, it was an attritional contest with Hasan and Hamza concentrating on bowling a nagging line outside off stump as they produced five consecutive maidens.
Smith was in danger of being worked over by Hamza with one delivery seaming back wickedly and almost hitting his off stump. But he broke the shackles with a gorgeous cover drive as Smith and Labuschagne then took a liking to specialist spinner Sajid Khan, who had minimal impact, as runs started to flow.
Quick Aamer Jamal sought a short-ball approach as he continued from his plan against the batters before play had stopped on day two. With the slips taken out and a slew of fielders on the leg-side, Jamal bent his back and bowled a lively spell but was thwarted.
Smith, who has struggled for some time against short-pitched bowling, did have a narrow escape when he almost hit to short midwicket.
Looking to shrug off a lean 2023, where he averaged 35 in Test cricket, Labuschagne was patient but assured and reached his half-century with a superb pull shot as he dealt with Hasan’s modest pace with ease.
There was a delay for several minutes after Smith complained about a small piece of rolled-up black tape that was on the white canopy behind the sightscreen.
Once a groundsman cleared the object, a more content Smith used his feet to club Salman down the ground in a rare sign of aggression.
Pakistan reverted their tactics when Hamza re-entered the attack and the change of plan worked when Smith hit straight to cover and he looked in disbelief at the pitch before trudging off.
There was much anticipation over Hamza reprising his battle with Head having clean bowled him during the Boxing Day Test with a stunning in-swinging full delivery. He tried to replicate that ball, but was thwarted this time by Head as Hamza took a tumble in his follow through.
Having dismissed Warner with a sharp delivery that had bite and turn, Salman was surprisingly held back on day three but made an impact with the wicket of Labuschagne as the match hung in the balance.
The third day of the traditional New Year’s Test is dedicated to Glenn McGrath’s late wife, Jane, who died of breast cancer in 2008.
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth