Zimbabwe defeat helped us focus: Nielsen
The Australians clearly haven't been enamoured by the Twenty20 format but Tim Nielsen, their coach, believes they are getting their act together after a dismal start to the tournament. Australia were shocked by Zimbabwe in the opener, and then lost to Pakistan as well, but have still made it to the semi-final after a thumping ten-wicket win against Sri Lanka on Thursday.
"I think coming off the break we were a little unsure about how the tournament was going to work," Nielsen said on the eve of their semi-final clash against India in Durban. "Guys in our international team hadn't had a lot of exposure to the Twenty20, and every time they played it was a lot of fun; it was a break between the Tests and ODIs. So probably losing to Zimbabwe was as good a tonic as we can hope for. We're lucky in a way it happened. It is made us focus, and realise that if we did not get it right, we would be under real pressure. Most importantly, after that loss, we had time to practice and train, and to get the confidence back among the boys.
"We now feel that we can meet the challenges a lot better. The more work we've done, the more comfortable the boys are with where they're at. It's been great that we've been able to find our way through to this stage of the tournament and ideally we're getting better every time; we'll hit the semi-final in as good a shape as we can be."
The Australians will be up against an in-form Indian team which is riding the momentum of two excellent wins against England and South Africa, and Nielsen admitted that his team would have to be focused from the start.
"I think we're getting to the stage in the tournament where we'll have to play at our best to be competitive. If you're not quite ready you can get caught out so quickly. That was shown over the last couple of days when teams got on a roll and it was for the opposition to stop the momentum. So we have to make sure tomorrow that we're switched on right from ball one."
Was he surprised that India, one of the less fancied teams in the competition, had progressed to the semi-finals?
"Certainly not. They've got a lot of young players who are relishing the opportunity to play for the country. We've seen two or three players in our cricket academy - RP Singh and Dinesh Karthik were there, while some of our guys played against Rohit Sharma a couple of years ago. We know these guys a little and we know they're fine players so we're not surprised at all."
When someone reminded him about Graeme Smith's comment about South Africa being unlucky to go out of the tournament after just one defeat, Nielsen was quick with his retort: "That's what this tournament is all about. It's not about how many games you win, it's about winning at the right times. If you're in a crunch game, you've got to make sure you perform. That's what this team [Australia] has done for so long. And they showed it again yesterday."
And as another crunch match comes up on Saturday, Nielsen will expect another similar performance from his team.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo