Johnny Morton (www.jmsport.co.uk)
Northern Knights captain Gary Wilson is entering the 2020 Inter-Provincial Series full of confidence that his side have what it takes to lift more silverware.
In his first full season back in the NCU last year, Wilson helped lead the Knights to their first competition victory in six years when they won the Twenty20 Trophy.
Fast forward a year and confidence has grown even more in the camp with Wilson just one of nine Irish internationals that will be in the 13-man squad for the opening game against the North West Warriors at Bready on Thursday.
There was originally 11 internationals in the team but Greg Thompson and James Cameron-Dow won’t be involved in the first game with Josh Manley and CJ van der Walt stepping in.
Competition for places in the matchday squad is fierce, especially at the top of the order, and Wilson says his men will be entering the competition believing they have what it takes to come out on top.
“There is really good competition for places,” he said. “You just have to look at some of the names that have missed out who are very good cricketers and proven at Inter-Pro level.
“It’s a good place for the selectors, coach and captain to be in. It’s great to have options. We have Stirlo, James (McCollum), Shane (Getkate), Mark and Ross Adair and Ruhan (Pretorius) that can all potentially open the batting in Inter-Pro cricket.
“We then have myself and Harry to bat in the middle and any of those six can bat 5, 6 or 7. We are very well set and are a very good team so want to approach the games with that attitude.
“We don’t want to be cocky or arrogant but we want to approach the game with a swagger that we believe we are the best team in the competition and that’s no disrespect to the other teams.
“It’s been a long time since the Knights have been able to approach games with that attitude but if you look at the way we shape up, we deserve to be able to turn up with the attitude that we will win the game.”
The Knights have been able to develop a squad with real depth, meaning they will likely bat right down to number 11. That will allow them to continue going hard at the opposition throughout the innings but it’s also about playing smart cricket for Wilson, and he is confident they have the players to successfully negotiate anything they come up against.
“It’s going to be really important to assess the conditions. If you rock up and you see the pitch is a green top, there’s no point shooting for 200+ if 150 is a winning score.
“At the same time, if the pitch is good we have the batting order and firepower to be able to shoot for the stars. Whatever pitch we see, we believe we have the attributes to combat the attack and pitch.”
One man that is guaranteed his spot at the top of the order is Paul Stirling, who will play against the Warriors on Thursday before departing for the T20 Blast in England where he will join up with his Northants team-mates.
The 29-year-old has been playing for his new club North Down over the past couple of weekends and Wilson says having him present even for one game boosts the competition massively.
“He will bring another dimension to what we already have and he is excited to play. It’s great for the competition that he’s able to play one game. I think the Inter-Pro’s are all about raising the standard of cricket in Ireland and winning for the Knights will hopefully be a by-product of that.
“When we take the field, we will be doing everything we can do to win but the most important thing is that Irish cricket is in a good position and to have guys like Paul Stirling playing in the competition can only help that.”
Wilson himself has only batted once in a competitive environment so far this summer, hitting 11 for CSNI on Saturday in their defeat by North Down. He was left out of the matchday squad for each of Ireland’s three ODI games against England in Southampton and although not entering the Inter-Pro’s with much match practice under his belt, it will be a case of backing experience and skill.
“It’s the 18th of August and I’ve had one competitive hit so it isn’t ideal but I’m 34 years old so I’ll go back to the well. It’s not like I’ll be learning anything new from competitive hits it’s more match practice that I’m missing.
“In an ideal world, I would have had more match practice but it is what it is and a lot of people are in the same boat. “I was disappointed to not get a game in Southampton but I understand the reasons and I’m looking forward to the series now to go out and play with a bit of freedom.”
He will be leading a Knights side that have so much potential and Wilson says the hard work that has been put in over the years is now showing.
“It’s been in the pipeline for some time. The guys put in so much work long before I got here. The work that Simon and the guys have been putting in over the last three or four years is starting to come to fruition now. “We deserve to have a reputation of not just being able to win games but I would think teams now look at us thinking we are a good side.
“That’s up to them however they want to look at us but we want to approach the game knowing we are a good side, play with that confidence and hopefully the results take care of themselves.”