LAHORE - Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul has said he is eyeing a return to competitive cricket after a knee injury he suffered in South Africa kept him out of action for more than six months. Gul suffered the injury in the second ODI of the series against South Africa and six weeks after undergoing a knee surgery in Australia in May, he started his rehabilitation programme at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.

"I'm pretty optimistic of getting back the rhythm as I feel fine at the moment," Gul told Dawn, a Pakistan daily. "It is just that there is no competition at present to find out the actual status of [my] fitness. Everything appears to be settling down. The knee is fine with no signs of ill-effects from the surgery I had a few months ago. Over the past 15 days, I have started bowling in the nets as well."

Pakistan's next international series is next month, against South Africa again, and Gul said he has started bowling in the nets but the absence of any form of cricket currently has made it difficult for him to assess his fitness and form properly. His fitness will most likely be assessed by the PCB during the pre-tour camp, which begins in Lahore next week.

"I am yearning to play some matches to test myself," he said. "Although I have trained [during rehabilitation] and then bowling [in the nets], one can't aspire to judge both the level of fitness and form if there is no competitive sort of matches."

The injury kept Gul out of the Champions Trophy, Pakistan's tour of West Indies in July and the series against Zimbabwe in August and September. Pakistan's performances varied in these months as they first lost their three matches in the Champions Trophy, won the ODI and Twenty20 series against West Indies and Zimbabwe but suffered a shock defeat in the second Test against Zimbabwe to share the series 1-1. Whatever the results, Gul said he was not worried about missing out on cricket because of the surgery.

"I'm obviously not worried about the number of matches I missed because of the surgery," he said. "But it was quite difficult to sit out and watch team-mates playing without me. Fortunately, the injury this time was not as serious as the one I suffered in 2004 when three stress fractures of the back sidelined me from the game for more than a year. At that stage I feared my career was over."

Starting October 14, Pakistan will host South Africa in the UAE for two Tests, five ODIs and two T20s, a tour Gul would be targeting. However, his recovery in the next few weeks will decide if he will be able to regain full fitness or not.

"It will be a great Test series because Pakistan have the potential to compete against them," Gul said. "We may have lost against them earlier this year but our side can win because the conditions will suit us more than we encountered in South Africa. I would love to play against them, but it all depends how it all goes for me in the coming weeks."