Auckland 'turning point' for Australia - Clarke
Australia's captain Michael Clarke has pinpointed the narrow defeat to New Zealand in Auckland as the "kick up the backside," his team needed as they prepare to rejoin battle with their Trans-Tasman rivals in the World Cup final at the MCG on Sunday
Australia were set back considerably by a rush of wickets at the hands of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Daniel Vettori at Eden Park, and Clarke said the difficult hours during and after that loss were the germination of a sense of purpose and direction that has carried the team through to the final with knockout victories over Pakistan and India.
These hard-fought results also followed a reshuffle of the team. Steven Smith was moved up to No. 3, where he again played a spinal innings against India, while Mitchell Johnson was moved back to first-change bowler, a perch from which he claimed the wickets of India's aces Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to all but seal his side's progress. Clarke said all this had begun in Auckland.
"I think New Zealand will take confidence that they've beaten us in the tournament, but I believe that was the turning point in this tournament for the Australian team," Clarke said. "I think that gave us a bit of a kick up the backside. We knew we got a good look at a very good team playing at the top of their game, certainly with the ball, and I think our attitude from that day has been exceptional.
"I think we've trained really well, we're prepared so well for every game. The boys have got out of bed every single day to try and become better, and I think you've seen that in our results, so I think we've been building - we've grabbed momentum and we've tried to run with it and we've been improving every single game, and I think that'll hold us in really good stead for Sunday."
Australia had only one very minor injury concern from the India victory - Josh Hazlewood spent the closing minutes of the match off the fied with a bruised thumb. However, they do have the drawback of only two days' gap between semi and final, a schedule more common in the customary fog of bilateral series rather than the rarified air of a World Cup.
"We haven't got much time, and recovery will be our goal and our focus over the next two days," Clarke said. "We'll have training on Saturday, but I think that'll be selected players and optional. I don't think our bowlers will do too much. Smithy probably doesn't need to hit too many balls, although he probably will. But yeah, recovery is what's important now.
"We fly now, I think our flight is in the morning, so blokes will recover tonight, blokes will recover when we land in Melbourne. I think physical recovery is the most important thing for us right now. I think mentally the team is ready for this final. If the game was today or the game was tomorrow, I think we're ready mentally.
"We've been building up throughout this tournament to get this opportunity to play a World Cup final. I'm not concerned there. It's just making sure the guys can recover as well as we can from this tough game."
Beyond a tight two days, Clarke was now prepared to contemplate the thought of winning the tournament. It is a prospect the Australians have been trying to embrace, while also not allowing it to envelop them. Now, so close to the summit, Clarke acknowledged the pressure he and his men have been under.
"It would be extremely special, there's no doubt about it," he said. "It's the pinnacle of one-day cricket. I think at the start of the tournament there was a lot of expectation and pressure put onto this team, the fact we were playing in our own backyard. So yeah, I think it would be the icing on the cake for the summer that the Australian cricket teams that had in both Test and one-day cricket.
"But I still think we're - yeah, 100 overs is a long time in this game. I just think we've got some work to do over the next couple of days to make sure we're as well prepared as we can be, and if our attitude doesn't change and we stay as focused as we've been since that loss against New Zealand, I'm confident we can win this World Cup."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig