In 2016, Sri Lanka toured India to play three T20I. This T20 series was seen as a part of the preparations for the 2016 World Cup which was scheduled in March. Both teams focused on their batting departments but the series was dominated by bowlers and especially the performance of Thisara Perera, who picked a hat-trick and inked his name in the history books.
Sri Lanka stunned India in the first game at Pune by routing the home team for just 101 runs. The visitors aced the chase with ease and reached Ranchi for the second T20I only to experience a flamboyant counter-punch from India.
India's opener, Shikhar Dhawan slammed a quickfire half-century to create a strong foundation and was ably supported by his partner Rohit Sharma who too scored vital runs in the powerplay overs.
The opening pair added 75 runs in seven overs before Dinesh Chandimal found Dhawan's edge on the bowling of Dushmantha Chameera. Before departing, the left-handed batsman scored 51 runs off just 25 balls.
The middle-order joins the party
India had rested Virat Kohli for the T20I series and the middle order was already feeling some pressure. But at Ranchi, Ajinkya Raahane and Suresh Raina batted effectively to milk runs in the middle overs. They prevented the visitors from making any in-roads and also kept the scoring rate healthy.
Sensing the opportunity, the team management promoted Hardik Pandya to inflict further damage. The hard-hitting batsman didn't disappoint and muscled 27 runs from just 12 balls. He collared Sachithra Senanayake for two back-to-back sixes in the 17th over to boost the run-rate.
From the other end, Raina too upped the ante and played the role of the aggressor. He took Chameera on the radar and smashed him four fours in the 18th over. In two overs, India mustered 34 runs and with plenty of batting firepower left, looked settled to end the innings on a high note.
And then Thisara Perera came back to bowl the 19th over.
Perera claims three wickets in three balls
With Pandya and Raina going berserk, the Sri Lankan captain, Chandimal called back Perera to bowl the 19th over. The pressure of the daunting task was certainly felt by the bowler as he delivered two wides in his first four balls. No boundaries came in the four deliveries, but the Indian duo managed to add seven runs.
And from nowhere the magic happened on the fourth ball.
The Sri Lankan pacer went for a yorker and Pandya, aiming for another massive heave, mistimed it. The ball lobbed in the air and was caught easily by Danushka Gunathilaka at long-on.
On the very next ball, Raina exposed his stumps by moving across and tried to pierce the leg-side boundary. However, Perera smartly anticipated the left-hander's intentions and cramped him by bowling a low full toss. Raina was caught off-guard and he handed a simple catch to Chameera at the square leg.
With two wickets in two balls, the right-arm medium pacer sent back both of India's set batsmen and was now on the brink of a hat-trick.
Yuvraj Singh came to the crease to the face the hat-trick and was welcomed with another low full-toss. Yuvi, with an aggressive mindset, went for an expansive drive but could only find Senanayake at long-on.
Perera had done it. Pandya, Raina and Yuvraj, got out in three deliveries and India slipped to 186 for six from 186 for three wickets.
The hat-trick came too little too late
The hat-trick did cost India few runs in the end, but the damage was already been done and the hosts finished their innings at 196 for six in 20 overs.
The pressure of accumulating almost ten runs per over was too much for the visitors and they collapsed to 127 runs in their 20 overs. The spin duo of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja squeezed Sri Lanka in the opening and the middle overs respectively while Jasprit Bumrah hammered the final nail in the coffin.
Sri Lanka lost the game by a massive deficit of 69 runs. However, the result couldn't deter the value of Perera's hat-trick which halted India's juggernaut and ignited hope for Sri Lanka.
The legacy of Perera's hat-trick
This was the only fourth hat-trick in the history of T20 internationals. By claiming three wickets in three balls, Perera became the first Asian bowler to achieve this rare feat.
Till date, there are only five hat-tricks in T20I and this stat reflects the monumental achievement by Perera. Brett Lee (vs Bangladesh 2007), Jacob Oram (vs Sri Lanka 2009), Tim Southee (vs Pakistan 2010) and Lasith Malinga (vs Bangladesh 2017) are the other four bowlers who picked three wickets in three balls.
Perera finished the game with figures of three wickets for 33 runs in three overs, his career-best bowling analysis. But unfortunately for him, his efforts couldn't win the game for Sri Lanka.
The much-hyped decider and final match of the T20I series turned out to be an anti-climax. Sri Lanka were all-out for 82 runs with Ashwin claiming four wickets in eight runs and then India's top-order completed the chase, to win the series 2-1.
But, by claiming the hat-trick Perera made the tour memorable for the visitors.