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Ireland want to put World on red alert, says Wilson


In hand: Gary Wilson wants Ireland to qualify for the T20 World Cup in impressive fashion
In hand: Gary Wilson wants Ireland to qualify for the T20 World Cup in impressive fashion

By Ian Callender in Abu Dhabi

Ireland aim to lay down a marker by not only qualifying for the T20 World Cup next year but winning the tournament which gets under way in the UAE today.

As the only Full Member nation involved, Ireland are expected to be a certainty to join the other 10 elite nations who go directly to the finals in Australia - Zimbabwe miss out as they were under ICC suspension.

And captain Gary Wilson is confident he has the players to do it but knows that nothing but their best will send them Down Under as the No.1 qualifier.

"You only need one or two players to come off in T20 cricket and it makes everyone a dangerous side," said the skipper.

"We have spoken at length that we have to be 100 per cent every game and, if we are, we'll win. But there is no margin for error. On an off day these teams are good enough to beat us."

The format of the tournament is that the 14 teams - with world rankings from Scotland in 11th (Ireland are 14th) to Nigeria, who have replaced Zimbabwe, in 37th - are divided into two round-robin groups of seven, with the group winners at the end of next week the first teams to qualify for the finals.

The final week will give four more teams the chance to qualify through play-off matches. The fifth-sixth place play-off and the tournament semi-finals and final will decide the teams' place in the draw for the finals, which has already been made.

So, as Wilson stressed, you don't actually have to win your group to win the tournament.

"We want to do more than qualify. Our target is to win the competition, and you want to be playing your best cricket at the end of it," he said.

The skipper is happy that preparations could hardly have gone better. In the last four weeks, they have played nine matches, winning six and losing three - the last by one run to Scotland in a warm-up game here in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday - and he believes the squad is ready to perform when it matters.

"We were probably ready to go before the Scotland game," said Wilson. "We put in two reasonable performances this week, albeit we lost the second game chasing a big score, but our batters performed well. It was tough in the heat for our bowlers to back up two 2pm starts against good opposition."

Three of Ireland's first four games are in the sweltering 34 degree afternoon heat, but none of them are on successive days, and with temperatures even hotter at the five-nation tournament in Oman last week - when they won three of their four matches - there will be no excuses about the heat.

Ireland will rely on one of their experienced and prolific top three - Paul Stirling, Kevin O'Brien and Andrew Balbirnie - to bat through the innings "with the others batting around them", but Wilson insists there will no pressure on them.

"It's true with any side in T20 cricket that if one of your top three scores 75 or 100 then you get a bigger score. There is a reason why they are batting in the top three and they are good enough to get a big score."

David Delany, the exciting 21-year-old pace bowler who missed the Oman tournament because of his studies, hit the ground running on his arrival here this week and forms a vital part of the attack.

"David has more pace than anyone else in the country and we're hoping to use that to our advantage," added Wilson. "We have good variation in our attack with a leg spinner, a left armer, an off spinner, someone who can touch 90mph plus Boyd Rankin and Craig Young, who have extra pace and bounce, and Stuart Thompson has bowled excellently with his yorkers. I'm happy with the bowlers."

The first opponents for Ireland today, in the impressive Sheikh Zayed Stadium, are Hong Kong, coached by former Ireland captain Trent Johnston.

"TJ knows us well so we can't take them lightly and we won't," said Wilson. "We beat them well last week (in Oman) and if we start well here then we create a feeling of 'here we go again'. So we will attack that with all guns blazing."

Group line-ups

Group A (in Dubai): Scotland, Netherlands, PNG, Namibia, Singapore, Kenya, Bermuda. Group B (in Abu Dhabi): Ireland's fixtures (all times BST) Today: Hong Kong (1110), Tomorrow: UAE (1630), Monday: Oman (1110), Wednesday: Canada (1110), Friday 25th: Jersey (0700), Saturday 26th: Nigeria (0700).

Play-off games (In Dubai): October 29-30. Semi-finals: November 1. Third place play-off and Final: November 2.

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