I'll give off my best against the Aussies: Akhtar

Published: Monday, February 3, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Karachi: Pakistani speed demon Shoaib Akhtar has sounded a warning to Australian stroke-makers, saying he plans to give a special performance against the best during the World Cup. "I want to target Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist," said the glamour boy of Pakistan cricket, known as much for his fiery pace as his controversial bowling action. Pakistan, runner-up at the last World Cup, opens its campaign with a mouth-watering clash against defending champions Australia at Johannesburg on February 11. "I can't tell you how anxiously I'm waiting for this match. We'll win it and show the world we're there to win the Cup," said Akhtar, nicknamed the 'Rawalpindi Express' for his ability to unsettle batsmen with sheer pace. "I want to be the best against the best and the World Cup will be an ideal event to prove that. Pakistan will surprise everyone with its performance and lift the Cup," he said. Akhtar denied he was interested in the 'Battle of Pace' with Australian Brett Lee, saying his primary job was to take wickets rather than bowling just fast.

"That's (the pace battle with Lee) is not my aim," said Akhtar, who reportedly crossed the 100mph speed barrier in a One-dayer against New Zealand at Lahore last year. The record was, however, not officially recognised. "Lee is not a match-winner. Only when he starts winning matches for his team will he be compared with me," said Akhtar, who has so far grabbed 122 wickets in 75 One- dayers. Critics say Akhtar can be a consistent match-winner if he overcomes his injury and attitude problems. "I think Akhtar is our trump card and he will take wickets," said former Pakistani fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz.

Akhtar conceded he was feeling the pressure of expectations, but denied Pakistan was a one-man team. "I'm feeling the pressure because everyone is looking at me to take wickets. I'll do my best, but Pakistan is not a one-man team. We have quality bowlers," he said. He fulfilled his fans' expectations when he played a major role in his team's surprise 2-1 victory over Australia last year, taking 5-13 at Brisbane. "The way he bowled in Australia was remarkable and if he maintains fitness, he can do what Pakistan needs most - getting key wickets," said Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to its only World Cup triumph in 1992 in Australia. But doubts remain. "He seems to be a spoilt bowler.

He plays when he wants to and I doubt he will be able to contribute fully," said former Pakistan captain and coach Intikhab Alam. Akhtar reportedly had an off-the-field clash with teammate Younis Khan in Zimbabwe and was then criticised for mingling with Indian film stars instead of returning home after his team's Test series in South Africa last year. But the star bowler brushed aside the criticism, saying he knew what his aim was. "I'm only bothered about my performance, nothing else. Other things will not distract me from the goal - winning the Cup," he said.

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