Clarke backs 'outstanding' Aussies to defeat Pakistan again

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The Independent Online

Australia already have one World Twenty20 victory over Pakistan in the bag – but the stakes will be much higher for their second meeting at Beausejour Stadium today.

Australia, unseeded at the start of this tournament on account of their blow-out in the previous edition in England last summer, have won each of their five matches this time – all by wide margins. It is that factor, rather than their 34-run Group A success against Pakistan at this same venue 11 days ago, which underpins captain Michael Clarke's confidence.

Asked whether the earlier verdict over the champions may provide a psychological edge, Clarke said: "I think it does, but it is more the way we are playing that gives me a lot of confidence.

"We came into this ranked very low, but our performances have been outstanding – and that's because of the desire from all the boys to work really hard and perform.

"We've done that consistently in completely different conditions here and in Barbados, so that's very exciting."

Clarke will not be taking Pakistan lightly, however. "They are a very strong team in any form of the game, but especially Twenty20 – 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."

Clarke rejected the suggestion that Australia may possibly have peaked too soon – and made it clear there was unfinished business for the multiple World Cup winners, who have fallen short in both Twenty20 tournaments so far.

"We are thrilled to be in the semi-finals – but we didn't come here to make the semi-finals," he said. "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."

If there are any remaining doubters back home then one of their key criticisms could well be Clarke's own form with the bat – he is is averaging just 12 at the World Twenty20. However, Australian legends Shane Warne and Steve Waugh have spoken out in defence of the captain, saying that his inspirational leadership is a good enough reason for him to be selected.

"At the moment he is captain of the Twenty20 side and he is doing a bloody good job," Warne said. "I think they are playing a good brand of cricket. I think what you are seeing is him maturing – he is becoming a good leader and good player."

The former captain Steve Waugh believes Clarke fully deserves his place in the side. "Form's temporary, class is permanent," Waugh said in the Australian newspaper. "He's a good enough player to adapt to that form of the game. I don't see that as a big issue right now. A lot of people are saying he needs to up the ante but if he's encouraging players around him and getting the best out of them, that's great for the team. He scores quick enough in my mind to be successful at Twenty20."

Their opponents today look like they could do with a confidence boost. Pakistan have often over the past two weeks looked like anything but a team about to defend their title. They scraped through on run-rate with only one Super Eight win but have a chance for a measure of revenge against Australia for a horrendous winter Down Under – during which they lost all three Test matches and five one-day internationals.

Captain Shahid Afridi believes his team may be about to click at just the right time. "I think we are feeling good," he said. "We have played well but just missed some opportunities, against England and then just losing [off the last ball] against New Zealand.

"Overall, the guys are very confident after the last game – and I think it will be a great game against Australia."

Meanwhile, former India captain Anil Kumble has said the pressure on players in the IPL might have led to his country's exit from the World Twenty20.

"The pressure during the IPL is very different, as you are performing for your franchises," Kumble wrote in the Hindustan Times. "It's quite intense. Perhaps, the players felt more in their comfort zone when they went back into an Indian set-up and it cost them. It sounds odd but it makes sense."

Kumble was also critical of India's handling of their fast bowlers during the tournament. "After Praveen Kumar went back, Zaheer Khan seemed to be struggling with something and Ashish Nehra, on his own, wasn't enough. Our selection was wrong," Kumble wrote.