Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur believes the battle to reach the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup will be “cutthroat”.
The 2014 champion tackles debutant Namibia on Monday in its first match of a qualifying round which also features Ireland and the Netherlands.
Namibia is the lowest-ranked team at the tournament at 19 in the world.
Only the top two progress to the Super 12s and Arthur is aware of how crucial an opening win will be at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s really important, this is a bit of a cutthroat little qualifier, you’ve got three games and you’ve got to hit the ground running without a doubt,” Arthur told a news conference on Sunday.
Sri Lanka has been dogged by problems in the build-up to the World Cup.
Kusal Mendis, opener Danushka Gunathilaka and wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella were all banned for a year for breaching the team’s coronavirus bubble in England in July.
Of its 12 T20 matches this year, Sri Lanka has won three and lost nine.
It suffered series whitewashes against England and South Africa.
READ: T20 World Cup: Namibia test first up for former champion Sri Lanka
However, it won a series 2-1 against a second-string Indian team in August to win back some respect in the cricket-crazy nation of 21 million people.
Arthur brings plenty of experience to his role having coached his native South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
He has former captain and 2014 world champion Mahela Jayawardene alongside him as a team mentor in the UAE.
“I think we’ve prepared really well, we had 10 days in Colombo as well and then against Oman (in a warm-up) it was great for us and allowed us to look at different combinations.
“Players got into some really good form, we sorted out exactly the brand of cricket we wanted to play, and then coming here, we’ve just capitalised a little bit on that and so I couldn’t be happier.”
Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus, meanwhile, said Sunday all of the pressure is on Sri Lanka.
“We are going in there with a permanent underdog tag and that is always nice, makes us nice and free,” said 26-year-old Erasmus.
“Maybe they are a bit under pressure because of recent results and that puts a team up for the taking, and if we do it well, we can take them down.
“We’ve played lots of T20 cricket against high-quality opposition, and we have travelled a bit so we are accustomed to playing in different conditions, playing against different skills.”
Namibia coach Pierre de Bruyn said the game will represent a lifetime achievement for many of the players.
“It’s been a long wait and the players can’t wait to get going,” he said.
“These players have dreamt about this opportunity since they were five years old, six years old, and that dream is coming true tomorrow, so there is excitement as well as nervousness and pressure.”