Pak v Aus, 2nd MCC Spirit of Cricket Test, Headingley, 1st day July 21, 2010

'It's easy for us to panic a bit' - Nielsen

Panic is not a word that's thrown around lightly within the Australian set-up. At least, not when they're talking about themselves. But the coach Tim Nielsen has conceded the Australian bowlers might have lost their nerve after their batting colleagues collapsed for 88 under overcast skies at Headingley.

When Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to bat, the bowlers certainly weren't expecting to have the ball in their hands just after 2pm, and they didn't quite know how to attack the situation. Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Johnson failed to find much swing and Ben Hilfenhaus attacked the leg stump of Salman Butt too much. Before they knew it Pakistan's openers had 35 from six overs.

"You get bowled out for 88, you think we've got to bowl the miracle ball every ball and try to bowl these blokes out in ten overs if we're going to have any chance," Nielsen said. "We bowled a few to their strengths, they got away from us a little bit and all of a sudden you're chasing your tail, the first five overs go for 30 or 40 and they're halfway to us. It's easy for us to panic a bit."

Nielsen is the man the Australians call on to front the media on their most difficult days, when the players are reluctant to answer questions, and he even prefaced his comments with: "You know it's been an ordinary day if I'm sitting here." But despite the way the Australians struggled to handle the pressure, Nielsen insisted it was not a major concern in the lead-up to an Ashes series.

"It's not a worry," he said. "I'd prefer we're exposed to these experiences now than the first time it happens it happens in an Ashes series that everyone is going to be focusing on. We have a couple of young blokes playing in their second Test match, we've got a young bowling attack ... it's exciting for them to be exposed to this sort of pressure and understand that Test match cricket is not easy."

He was especially pleased with the way Hilfenhaus fought back after tea to find the right line and pick up the key wicket of Butt. Full, swinging deliveries were just as difficult for the Pakistan top order to handle as the Australian batsmen, and Nielsen did not have harsh words for his own batting group despite Australia falling to their lowest Test total since 1984.

"We had four or five lbws and there weren't too many of those that were big slogs as such, they just got beaten by the swinging ball," Nielsen said. "At the end of the innings we were conscious of trying to be positive and get as many runs as we could."

The memory of the Sydney Test in January, when Pakistan lost after taking a 206-run first-innings lead, has given the Australians hope that they can dig their way out of such a hole again. Their best-case scenario is to skittle Pakistan quickly on the second day - they do have a long tail and are three down already - and if Australia can manage that, anything is possible.

"I know we're 50 or 60 behind but at least we're a chance," Nielsen said. "If we can have a good morning tomorrow and take a couple of wickets and not let the scoreboard get out of control we're still a chance in the game."

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo