THE countdown to Ireland’s most important games of the year – the T20 World Cup qualifying tournament in October - begins with the first Twenty20 international against Zimbabwe at Stormont.

Gary Wilson took over the captaincy of the T20 side last summer but missed all six games during the winter with a eye problem, which is now “under control”. But Ireland’s third most capped player believes Ireland are best equipped for the shortest format since they were kings of Associate cricket in 2013.

“I think it’s the best we have lined up in T20 cricket for a long time, I am really happy with the balance of the squad and we have a really good opportunity to beat Zimbabwe in this series,” says Wilson.

“We haven’t played them a huge amount in T20 cricket. They put up a better show in the T20 series (than in the ODIs) in Holland last month so maybe they are a slightly better T20 side but after beating a side 3-0 in a series you have to take confidence from that.

“I would expect them to be a little down on confidence because they lost 3-0 in the ODIs so it’s up to us to ensure we build on that and create a feeling of ‘here we go again’ from their point of view and the best way to do that is to start well, tomorrow, whether it be with bat or ball. And if we do that hopefully we can carry that on through the rest of the series.”

Wilson was forced to watch the ODIs from the other side of the boundary while Lorcan Tucker kept wicket but the captain will be back behind the stumps tomorrow with the Pembroke man playing as a specialist batsman.

“When we are playing in the same team I will be wicket-keeper,” added Wilson, “but Whitey (Ireland’s chairman of selectors, Andrew White) explained he wanted to give Lorcan an opportunity to keep as it was our last ODIs until we go to West Indies in January.

“I still want to play as much cricket as I can, but there has to be a succession plan and I understood that.”

The next three matches are about finalising a 15 for the Qualifiers in the UAE and although three or four other names will be put in the mix, as Wilson says “the guys picked this week will have the first opportunity to put their name at the top of the list".

Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien will continue their opening partnership, first tried in Oman during the winter but while that turned out to be a success – 353 runs at a strike rate of 154 – the disadvantage then was that O’Brien’s power-hitting was missing at the end.

What a difference five months makes. In Mark Adair, Shane Getkate and Leinster’s Gareth Delany, who is set to win his first cap this week – Ireland will need only one of them to come off to ensure a competitive total.
“It’s something we have lacked, a good blend of power-hitting and touch. We are pretty well set through the order,” says Wilson.

“The way Mark has carried himself and played his cricket since his first inter-pro game has been very impressive. We have always known of his qualities, but his attitude has been first class and he is getting the rewards from that now and I think he will only go from strength to strength.

“After this he has the Euro T20 Slam and that will be another great opportunity to showcase his skills, and it’s brilliant to see, as he is such a talent and still so young (23) and he has great future ahead of him in Irish cricket.

“Delany is in the squad mainly for his leg spin bowling, we are pretty well set for hitters at the top of the order but he will get his chance over the three games. There’s no point taking someone to the Qualifiers we are taking a gamble on, we want to be sure on the 15 we take so Gareth will get a chance and his power-hitting at the back end could also come into play.”

The other additions to the T20 squad and assured of a place in the 18 names which the Ireland selectors will choose for the Slam, which starts on August 30, are Greg Thompson, Craig Young, Josh Little and George Dockrell.

It is a big week for Dockrell who has lost his place in the Test match and ODI squads, having played in every match until the end of the Tri-series in May, while pace men Little and Young could be battling it out for one place in the Qualifiers.

In Thompson, Wilson knows he getting a player in form with the bat and as his Northern Knights and Ireland skipper says: “Greg has battered the door down with his weight of runs and the way he played in the (inter-pro) Festival, made everyone stand up and look and it was then that we had to think about picking him. Hopefully he can go on and cement his place.

Ireland squad: G Wilson (capt), M Adair A Balbirnie, G Delany, G Dockrell, S Getkate, T Kane, J Little, K O’Brien, B Rankin, P Stirling, G Thompson, L Tucker, C Young