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India disposed of, Clarke eyes bigger scalp


Clarke also stressed on how the batting collapse against New Zealand at Eden Park was a thing of the past.Michael Clarke's Australia are ready for New Zealand at the MCG on Sunday. Clarke remembers well the two teams' previous encounter in the tournament, when New Zealand bowled out Australia for 151 and then scraped to a one-wicket win, but after beating defending champions India by 95 runs in the second semi-final to join the unbeaten New Zealand in the final, the feeling of confidence was high.
"I don't think it matters too much to us who we were going to play in the final," said Clarke after the win over India on Thursday. "New Zealand deserve a lot of credit. They've been the form team of the tournament. But I don't think it bothers us too much about who we had to play. It was our priority and our goal was to get into the final first and foremost. And it happens to be New Zealand. Once we walk out onto that field we know it's going to be an extremely tough battle and we're going to be up for that. New Zealand have been the form team of the competition, [they] certainly deserve to be in the final, and we're going to have to, like I say, be at our best to beat them."
Clarke also stressed on how the batting collapse against New Zealand at Eden Park was a thing of the past. "I think you've seen in the last few games that the way we've played, we've certainly improved in that area. I don't think we need to talk about it anymore," he said. "We'll talk about the New Zealand team once again, though. There's no doubt we'll study them, and we've been watching just about every game, as well, certainly myself and Boof [Darren Lehmann] have. So we know who we're up against. We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses, and we know they're at the top of their game at the moment playing really good cricket."
Clarke had the opportunity to watch two contrasting innings today. Steven Smith danced his way to a fine hundred, while opener Aaron Finch laboured for the most part of his 116-ball 81. Clarke was full of praise for Man-of-the-Match Smith's effort, but took plenty from what he saw of Finch, who returned to some sort of touch after a lean run. And what he saw moved Clarke to make a bold prediction.
"Don't be surprised if he walks out on Sunday and makes an unbelievable hundred," he said. "I think that innings will do him a world of good. The fact that he spent the time in the middle, and I said that to him when he walked off, I think he was a little bit disappointed with the way he batted, or with the way it felt, but I think he did a fantastic job, and again, in any form of the game, the partnership is the most important part, not necessarily the individual score, and I thought the work he did with Smitty was exactly what we needed at that time, and I think that time in the middle will allow him on Sunday to walk out and play with freedom. Don't be surprised if he makes a big hundred."
Another player who made an impact was Mitchell Johnson. With the bat, the left-hander smashed an unbeaten 27 from nine balls to help Australia's innings end on a high. With the ball, Johnson delivered two punches, getting a settled Rohit Sharma bowled for 34 and Virat Kohli for just 1, top-edging a pull to a short ball outside off stump. And the value of that role was immense for Clarke.
"Two crucial wickets, two big prize wickets, aren't they? I've always said Mitchell making runs gives him confidence with the ball. I think tonight was a good example of that," he said. "Mitch is Mitch. He's a class performer, consistently. He probably hasn't had the standout tournament that everybody expects of him all the time. Because he's such a great performer, you expect him to take five wickets every time he walks out onto that field. But I think he's done a fantastic job for this team throughout this tournament.
"He's a wicket-taker. He's an X-factor but he's got experience under pressure now. A dangerous weapon to have, and he's been the same his whole career. He's been exceptional. I love having him in the team. He's another example of someone that always puts the team first. He would love to open the bowling, but he knows it's best for the team at the moment that he bowls first change. Hasn't blinked once at it, doesn't bother him, and wants to win. That's what's most important."
With India disposed of clinically, the next goal for Clarke is to get his hands on the World Cup, having endured much pain and perhaps uncertainty in his efforts to get his body up and running for the tournament.
"It would be extremely special. There's no doubt about it. It's the pinnacle of one-day cricket," he said. "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. 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. 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."
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