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May 13, 2010
Michael Clarke knows Australia's dominance at the World Twenty20 will count for nothing if they don't continue that form in the knockout stages starting with a semi-final against Pakistan.
Australia have been the standout team at this year's tournament, maintaining an unbeaten record with their aggressive brand of cricket built around a fearsome pace attack. Despite twice having serious batting slumps - against Bangladesh they were 65 for 6 and against Sri Lanka slipped to 67 for 5 - they have found a clutch of matchwinners throughout the line up. The semi-final berth was secured with a powerful six-wicket victory against West Indies where legspinner Steven Smith claimed 3 for 20.
On paper the semi-final shouldn't be a contest; the ultra professionalism and depth of Australia against the mercurial talents of Pakistan that have only come together once, against South Africa, at this tournament and they lost heavily in the group match between the two. However, with Twenty20 narrowing the margins of error, and Pakistan's ability to rise in must-win matches, they remain a serious threat and Clarke is well aware of the challenge they pose.
"Pakistan are a very strong team in any form of the game but especially T20 and they've shown that to make the semi finals once again," he said. "We take momentum from every win we've had but they'll come out with a lot to prove on a wicket that will probably suit them a little more than Barbados.
"It's important we look at what's in front of us and not too far ahead. Pakistan have a lot of matchwinners. We need to really focus on the opposition and we go from there. We are thrilled to be in the semi-finals but we didn't come here to make the semi-finals."
Prior to this tournament Australia hadn't managed to replicate their dominance of Test and one-day cricket on the Twenty20 arena. They reached the semi-final of the inaugural event in South Africa before losing to India, but also suffered an embarrassing loss against Zimbabwe which led Ricky Ponting to admit they hadn't taken the game seriously enough. In England last year they crashed out in the first round after heavy defeats to West Indies and Sri Lanka leaving the hierarchy aware that something had to be done.
"No doubt it has motivated every player, not just in this tournament but through the last 12 months," Clarke, who replaced Ponting as Twenty20 captain, said. "We've certainly improved and have worked very hard to get into this position. But what we've done now is irrelevant, we need to beat Pakistan."
The key part to Australia's success has been their pace attack of Shaun Tait, Dirk Nannes and Mitchell Johnson which has proved too strong for the opposition especially on the quick pitches in Barbados.
Elsewhere David Hussey, David Warner and Cameron White have shown their striking power while Mike Hussey has proved a revelation coming in at No. 7. Clarke has had the least impact of the players selected in the final XI, but while the runs haven't flowed he has begun moulding Australia's most powerful unit in this format.
"We are all learning the more opportunities we get," he said. "But as I've said from the start I think this is a wonderful squad. We've got guys who haven't had the chance in the middle but they still turn up and train every day and work their backsides off. Then there's the XI on the field that bust their backsides not only for themselves but also for the support staff, the supporters from Australia and the people at home who have doubted us in this format.
"Everyone has performed well in at least one of the games. Our fielding has been outstanding and is a huge part of Australian cricket in any form of the game, that's probably the most satisfying for me."
When Clarke spoke the identity of the first finalists was still unclear, but that is now confirmed as England. It throws up the prospect of an intriguing pre-Ashes encounter and, after some reluctance, the Australian captain said what most people wanted him to.
"I'd look forward to that. If we beat Pakistan and meet England in the final I think it would be a good start to what will be a very good and interesting summer back in Australia with the Ashes. But for me right now I've got both eyes on Pakistan."
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala