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Why Singapore beating Zimbabwe is a big deal

Amjad Mahboob, the Singapore captain, celebrates the wicket of Brian Chari Singapore Cricket Association

Double-take, but did you say Singapore's men's senior team beat Zimbabwe's men's senior team on Sunday?

Yes, that's right.

At cricket?

That's why we're talking about it.

The Zimbabwe of the Flowers, Taibus, Taylors and Streaks?

The same.

An exhibition game right, that doesn't count towards anything?

Nope, it very much is official and it very much does count. Zimbabwe are playing a T20I tri-series in Singapore, where Nepal are the third side. And since April 2018, when the ICC granted T20 status to all its members, each and every 20-over game between any of the 104 member nations counts towards official records.

Wow. But it must've been a fluke?

Not so much. Singapore are among the fastest rising member nations around the globe. Just last month, they beat Nepal and made it to the qualifiers for the T20 World Cup, as one of 14 teams. Six of those will actually make it to the 16-team World Cup next year.

ALSO READ: Singapore create history by clinching T20I victory over Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe were probably not at their strongest…

They certainly haven't fielded their full-strength side for this series, with a number of big names like Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine*, Chris Mpofu and Sikandar Raza missing for varying reasons. Instead, they're looking at this tri-series to give an opportunity to some of their younger and upcoming players, but none of that is to take away any credit away from Singapore. To put things in perspective, Singapore were playing a Test nation for the first time, and their players had a combined experience of 43 T20Is, compared to Zimbabwe's 136.

And Zimbabwe are still a Test nation right?

Yes, they're still among the ICC's 12 Full Members, the elite sides who play all three formats. But they have been hit by one crisis after another. They are currently under suspension because of government interference in their cricket administration, and barred from competing in ICC competitions, which has ruled them out of the T20 World Cup Qualifiers. And they have also been hit by the retirement of former captain Hamilton Masakadza, one of their longest-serving players and leading batsman.

That's sad. Where has all this left them?

As low as 15th on the ICC men's T20I rankings, which means they are only six places above Singapore who, at 21, are at their highest-ever ranking. They're above the likes of Kenya and Canada. You might remember that Zimbabwe (with Masakadza's help) beat seventh-ranked Afghanistan just a couple of weeks ago.

SEVENTH-RANKED Afghanistan lost to FIFTEENTH-RANKED Zimbabwe? Is that what you just said?

Yes, but let's focus on Singapore.

Sure. Tell me more about their side. Aren't the players all just South Asian expats living there?

Singapore have been lurking as a solid team in 50-over cricket for a long time in the World Cricket League era, the second-tier one-day competition for Associates, with a mix of players comprised primarily of south Asian expats. But their fortunes took a dramatic shift this year with the arrival of Tim David, a Perth-based hard-hitting batsman who has been a member of the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League.

The 23-year-old David qualifies for Singapore by virtue of being born there and has played a massive role in Singapore's recent success in all formats. He made 77 off 43 balls against Nepal in July in a win that sealed Singapore's place in the upcoming T20 World Cup Qualifiers, top-scored with 41 off 24 balls in the win over Zimbabwe and was the tournament's leading scorer with four half-centuries in five innings in the recent opening round of the new Cricket World Cup Challenge League one-day tournament (which has replaced the World Cricket League) held in Malaysia, where Singapore went 4-1 a week before this tri-series with Nepal and Zimbabwe.

Are Singapore the smallest ever nation to beat a Test team like Zimbabwe?

Hong Kong come close. They've beaten Bangladesh in the past. But Singapore probably are the smallest nation to beat a Test side in an official international game. They have less than a third of Zimbabwe's population, and roughly 3% of geographical size. Sure, New Zealand and Ireland have fewer people, but they aren't tiny city-states, are they?

When are Singapore playing in this World T20 Qualifier? And how can I follow their progress?

They are competing less than a month from now, and need to qualify out of a group featuring Scotland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and Namibia, all ranked above them. The tournament runs from October 18 to November 2 in the UAE.

Anything else I should know?

Singapore only played their first T20 international three months ago, and have since won four of their five games. After Afghanistan, Nepal and Oman, they could be the next big success story from South Asia. While Afghanistan and Nepal's rise are more widely known, Oman, who famously beat Ireland in the 2016 T20 World Cup, will go into the T20 World Cup Qualifiers as one of the favourites.

With additional inputs from Peter Della Penna

*Oct 1, 09.25GMT: The piece was amended to reflect the fact that it was Craig Ervine missing in action for Zimbabwe, not his brother Sean