Irish hopefuls are eager to impress Ford at first ever T20 Festival
All roads lead to Pembroke Cricket Club this weekend for the inaugural Twenty20 Festival, the climax to this year's T20 inter-provincials.
The Premier League fixtures in all four unions have been postponed to ensure the teams don't miss their top players and on Sunday night, the T20 champions will receive the trophy after each team plays two games each day, starting this morning (11am).
Leinster Lightning begin the festival with a six-point lead after winning their first three matches and could actually win the tournament this afternoon if they beat Northern Knights with a bonus point and North West Warriors lose to Munster Reds in this morning's match.
More likely, victory on Super Saturday in the afternoon match against Warriors would seal the title, but individual performances as much as the result will be watched with interest by Ireland head coach Graham Ford and his selectors - the coaches of the three main unions.
Although not too much should be read into last week's T20 internationals against mighty India - after all, they hammered England by eight wickets on Tuesday in the first match of that series -any player who shows consistency in the shortest format will get a chance in the Ireland squad before next year's World T20 qualifying tournament.
Injuries have ravaged the Northern Knights squad with skipper James Shannon joining his Instonians team-mates Nikolai and Nathan Smith plus Gary Kidd on the unavailable list, although Nigel Jones' return is a big plus.
Warriors have brought in the Coleraine trio of Rishi Chopra and possible debutants Varun Chopra and Marcus Poskitt, who, along with David Rankin, is an option to keep wicket as Ricky-Lee Dougherty is unavailable. They are also without Brigade skipper Andy Britton.
Lightning are without Kevin O'Brien, who is at the Global T20 tournament in Canada, and six-time Ireland international Sean Terry, who has retired from cricket at the age of 26, and bring in Andrew Sheridan and North County pace bowler Fionn Hand.
Munster Reds have Max Sorensen and, for the first time, the YMCA pair of Oliver Gunning and Jarred Barnes to cover for injured skipper Jack Tector. Jeremy Benton takes over the captaincy.
It still leaves plenty of players hoping to make their mark, with only six of the side that faced India in action this weekend.
Next up for Ireland is a three-match series against Afghanistan at Bready, starting on August 20, and, apart from an Ireland Wolves match next Thursday against Scotland 'A' in Dundee, this is the last representative T20 action before that squad is selected.
Of the Wolves squad, named yesterday, all but JJ Garth, the Ireland Under-19 and Pembroke leg spinner, will be playing this weekend.
Tickets went on sale yesterday for both Afghanistan series - the new Test nations will also meet in three one-day internationals at Stormont in the last week of August - and Ford is already looking forward.
"Our horizon in the short form of the game is the World T20 Cup qualifiers in 2019. We need to build a competitive squad for that qualification stage and hopefully to propel us into the main tournament in Australia in 2020," he said. "The Afghanistan series will be ideal preparation as it provides us with a good level of competitive cricket across a six-match series. I believe fans will see a positive reaction from the team after recent experiences."
Inter-pro squads: Northern Knights: S Getkate (capt), M Adair, J Cameron-Dow, A Dennison, P Eakin, N Jones, G McCarter, J McCollum, J Mulder, N Rock, A Shields, H Tector, G Thompson.
North West Warriors: A McBrine (capt), R Allen, R Chopra, V Chopra, A Gillespie, G Kennedy, W McClintock, M Poskitt, W Porterfield, D Rankin, D Scanlon, S Thompson, C Young.
Munster Reds: J Benton (capt), Yaqoob Ali, T Anders J Barnes D Delany S Doheny R Forrest O Gunning C Hassett R Jones, S Jones, N Pretorius M Sorensen.
Leinster Lightning: G Dockrell (capt), J Anderson, A Balbirnie, P Chase, G Delany, F Hand, T Kane, E Richardson, A Sheridan, S Singh, T Stanton, L Tucker.
Fixtures (all games at Sydney Parade): Today: Reds v Warriors (11am), Lightning v Knights (4pm); Tomorrow: Reds v Knights (11am), Lightning v Warriors (4pm); Sunday: Warriors v Knights, Lightning v Reds.
Tomorrow (12.00): Robinson Services League Section One: Bangor v Lurgan (11.30), Cregagh v Holywood, Donaghcloney Mill v Lisburn, Laurelvale v Downpatrick, Woodvale v Derriaghy.
Section Two: Ards v Cooke Collegians, BISC v Drumaness, Ballymena v Donaghadee, Dunmurry v Cliftonville Academy, Larne v Belfast Superkings, Saintfield v Dundrum, Templepatrick v Monaghan. Sunday: Ards v Dunmurry, Cooke Collegians v Dundrum, Templepatrick v Saintfield.
Long's SuperValu Championship: Ballyspallen v St Johnston, Bonds Glen v Glendermott, Drummond v Burndennett, Newbuildings v Killyclooney.
• Chris Jordan says England's confidence is intact despite their eight-wicket defeat in the first Vitality IT20 against India.
As the hosts prepare to battle back in Cardiff and keep the series alive this evening, Jordan insists they remain optimistic.
Tuesday's trouncing at Old Trafford was a reality check after the six-game white-ball 'whitewash' of a depleted Australia.
But asked if there is any less belief in Eoin Morgan's squad, Jordan said: "No. We've been on a high in white-ball cricket for a while - one game, one defeat, shouldn't change our confidence. You still want to be on the front foot, and play positive cricket."