<
>

'Australia easier to beat now' - Akhtar

Shoaib Akhtar walks back to his bowling mark Sohail Abbas

Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar is confident of his team's chances against Australia in the one-day series next month in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Akhtar believes the world champions are less of a threat than in the past. "Australia are now much easier to beat than before and if we play our best we can beat them in the series," Akhtar told AFP. "We have a very good chance..." he said

Akhtar said Australia had been weakened by the loss of some key players and even though they still held the top spot in the Test rankings, Pakistan could get the better of them. "They are still the world's top team, which they proved by avenging their defeat against South Africa," Akhtar said. "But they still miss the likes of [Adam] Gilchrist, [Matthew] Hayden, [Glenn] McGrath and [Shane] Warne who were top-class players. If even one of them came to the party, it spelt doom for the rival team.

"Australia now doesn't have as many quality players as in the past. They were beaten by South Africa in the one-day series in Australia and judging by their strength in one-dayers I think we can beat them."

The 33-year-old is eyeing a comeback after injuring his knee last month, which forced him out of Pakistan's two-Test series at home against Sri Lanka. He also missed the final one-dayer against Sri Lanka in January after managing just one wicket in the first two matches. However, since recovering Akhtar has featured in a few domestic matches and he hoped that would work in his favour with the selectors yet to pick the squad.

"I have been working very hard and gearing up to play against Australia," he said. "I will play more domestic matches so that I can prove my fitness to the selectors and the rest is with them. I am feeling better and have bowled 20 overs in the two matches. So I will be up to my full fitness and rhythm when we play Australia."

Pakistan will play Australia in five ODIs and a Twenty20 international in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from April 22 to May 7.