Gary Wilson will be looking to lead the Northern Knights to their first piece of Inter-Provincial silverware since 2013 this weekend at the second Twenty20 Festival in Bready.
After winning all three of their matches in the first block of T20 fixtures in Dublin in June, the Knights travel to the North West with a seven-point lead over second-placed Leinster Lightning, who they will take on in Friday’s opening match (11:30am) in their bid to lift the Inter-Provincial Trophy.
Since the Inter-Provincial system in Ireland was revamped in 2013, the Knights have only picked up one trophy from a possible 18 but skipper Wilson is confident they have a squad capable of competing in all formats.
“We were able to put pressure on all three teams,” he reflected on June’s success.
“We played with calm heads and that showed in the results. We are confident in how we line up in all three formats now.
“We feel we have a good enough side to win every game we play – that’s not saying we will win every game but we feel if we can play to our ability we have a good enough side.”
The Knights, who are coached by Simon Johnston, will face Munster Reds on Saturday before rounding out their T20 campaign against the North West Warriors on Sunday.
It feels like Wilson and Johnston have put together a squad that are primed for the shortest form of the game with the likes of Mark Adair and Shane Getkate now established Irish internationals.
Adair will be one of the main threats on the bowling front alongside David Delany, who is an exciting pace bowler and impressed in a three-day game against Leinster last week.
“Mark has come in and done very well in all forms, but T20 is probably where he specialises,” he said.
“He has power with the bat and skills with the ball. David is exciting and has been able to come in and bowl with some great pace. All in all, it’s a very exciting squad.”
This is Wilson’s first season back in Ireland following a decade in the English County game with Surrey and Derbyshire.
The 33-year-old took on the role of captain at the start of the campaign and admits it has been tough to adjust to fewer matches.
“It’s been good – I feel that I’ve had a positive influence on the dressing room,” he said. “In England, you would be playing almost every other day. I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball well without getting the runs.
“I’ve scored quite a few thirties but obviously you want to go on and make bigger scores.
“In England, you have a chance every other day but here you feel like you have to score every time you go out to bat because you mightn’t have another chance for a while.
“That’s been a challenge but hopefully it’ll be a strong finish to the season heading into the World Cup qualifiers.”
The Knights laid down a marker after defeating Leinster - who have dominated the domestic scene for the past six years – twice in June in two different formats.
That will have inspired confidence in the dressing room that this group are capable of going all the way and Wilson says he is pleased with the direction the squad are trending.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead, but we have a squad that we believe can challenge on all three fronts,” he said.
“I think there was maybe a bit of a mental block there and I noticed it in the first game out in La Manga, when we got ourselves into a position where we could win the game and sort of felt like the lads were a bit overawed by that.
“We got a first win over them down in Dublin and since that we beat them in the one-day game and felt we came out on the right side of the two three-day games after being under pressure in Dublin and coming back to Belfast.
“There were only 80 overs or so in the game but we came out with more bonus points than them. We are pleased with how things are going.”
Wilson will also be captain of Ireland’s T20 squad when they travel to the United Arab Emirates in October and November as they look to secure qualification for the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia.
These fixtures will be key heading in to such a big tournament and Irish selectors will undoubtedly have a keen eye on the action at Magheramason this weekend.
“There is no county cricket anymore so the only way to get into Ireland squads is to perform for your province,” he said.
“No doubt that will be on the lads’ minds, how to get into one of those squads.”
Before that, Wilson will be part of the Belfast Titans squad in the inaugural Euro T20 Slam which gets underway on August 30 in the Netherlands before further blocks of fixtures in Scotland and Ireland, concluding with the final on September 22.