Jon Coates (Irish Daily Mail)
Andre Botha yesterday savoured the prospect of taking on fierce rivals Scotland in Ireland's opening match of the Cricket World Cup Qualifier in South Africa.
The Celts will clash in a repeat of the 2005 ICC Trophy Final at Castle Avenue - which the Scots won - on April 1 as the game's second-tier nations chase four spots at the 2011 gathering on the Asian subcontinent.
Botha is convinced of the benefits of getting 'the big one' out of the way first, with minnows Oman and Uganda waiting next in line for the tournament favourites before the first phase concludes with games against Canada and Namibia.
"I think it's a good thing because Scotland are probably our main competition" said Botha yesterday. "If we can get an early win it will set us up for the whole tournament, and they will say the same.
"On the other side if we don't win, there is a lot of time to claw it back. It's a tough group but we will be ready for the challenge."
Botha, Ireland's Player of the Year for 2008, was born in Johannesburg where Phil Simmons' team will be largely based and he is predicting some high-scoring encounters in the first week at Willowmoore Park in Benoni, Klugersdorp and the secondary oval at The Wanderers.
The left-handed batsman and medium-paced right-armer is currently on crutches recovering from keyhole ankle surgery, but is adamant he will be training again in a couple of weeks and fully fit for departure in mid-March.
Emerging from Group A should be a formality for the Irish but all points will be carried forward into the Super Eights, where they would face the likes of Kenya, Holland and even the unknown quantity of Afghanistan.
"This format mirrors the 2007 World Cup [where Ireland reached the Super Eights], and that is a good thing,' said national coach Simmons. 'We have to play everybody at some stage and we want to play with the same intensity so we can get to a level of consistency where we can win against everyone."
That degree of ruthlessness is exactly what this sort of campaign requires, as the Scots demonstrated four years ago in Leinster when they won all seven games. One or two defeats and the prospect of falling short of the top four - and even, unthinkably, the top six, which would result in the loss of one-day international status until 2013 - would inflict burdensome pressures on the squad.