The Paul Stirling captaincy era will begin officially in Harare this evening when Ireland take on Zimbabwe in the first of three T20 internationals, to be followed next week by three ODIs.

Stirling has previous experience of captaining Ireland in the absence of former skipper Andy Balbirnie, and was handed the job on a temporary basis when his predecessor resigned after a shambolic World Cup qualifying campaign in June.

But this is the first time the Belfast-born 33-year-old has had the chance to put his imprint on a team and set its course towards next year’s T20 World Cup, against familiar rivals who surprisingly failed to qualify from the Africa group.


“It’s a fresh start for us in both formats,” Stirling said. “It’s five or six months since we were last in Zimbabwe for the World Cup qualifiers and we missed out and didn’t have the best time, so now we are in a rebuilding phase.

“We have a T20 World Cup next year in the West Indies and the USA so this is the beginning of our building towards that, and although the next one-day World Cup is four years away, the preparations for that process begins in the first ODI here.”

Stirling doesn’t think that Zimbabwe’s shock usurping by Namibia and Uganda in the T20 qualifiers, only last week, means that the balance of power between two evenly-matched sides had shifted towards the visitors.

“It hasn’t changed my opinion, at all,” he said. “Zimbabwe are a strong team, and we’ve never won a series here. It’s always fairly even between the sides and we can’t rest on our laurels. We’ll need to be at our very peak to win.”

Harry Tector, who turned 24 yesterday, will be a key batsman for Ireland in the ODI series as he is ranked eighth best in the world, but he will want to improve his 97th place on the ladder in T20 internationals.

Meanwhile, Stirling, who is only 13 behind and closing fast on Kevin O’Brien’s record of 389 caps, is Ireland’s highest-ranked batter over the shorter distance, and with 3,408 runs he has the world’s fifth-highest aggregate.

T20 SQUAD: Paul Stirling (c), Mark Adair, Ross Adair, Andrew Balbirnie, Curtis Campher, Gareth Delany, George Dockrell, Josh Little, Graham Hume, Barry McCarthy, Neil Rock, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker (w/k), Theo van Woerkom, Craig Young.

ODI SQUAD: Stirling (c), Mark Adair, Balbirnie, Campher, Dockrell, Little, Hume, Andy McBrine, McCarthy, Rock, Tector, Tucker, van Woerkom, Young.


Today: Zimbabwe v Ireland – 1st T20I (Harare; start 6pm; D/N
9 December: Zimbabwe v Ireland – 2nd T20I (Harare; start 1pm)
10 December: Zimbabwe v Ireland – 3rd T20I (Harare; 1pm)
13 December: Zimbabwe v Ireland – 1st ODI (Harare; 9.15am)
15 December: Zimbabwe v Ireland – 2nd ODI (Harare; 9.15am)
17 December: Zimbabwe v Ireland – 3rd ODI (Harare; 9.15am)