For 90 overs Pakistan appeared destined to extend their 10-match streak of not losing at the R Premadasa Stadium. Then, in a dramatic 41st over of a chase of 244, Thisara Perera triggered a collapse that a house of cards in a hurricane could not have bettered. Perera picked up a hat-trick, added insult to injury with an athletic run out, and did not concede a run as Pakistan slumped from 176 for four to 176 for eight, and then limped to a 44-run defeat.
Pakistan entered the home stretch with Younus Khan at the crease, but when he shimmied down the pitch and opened the face of the bat to run the ball to third-man, he only managed an edge to the waiting hands of Kumar Sangakkara behind the stumps. Shahid Afridi hit the first ball he faced straight to short cover, leaving Sarfraz Ahmed, the wicketkeeper to negotiate the hat-trick ball. With no movement of his feet Sarfraz drove at Perera, edging straight to the lone wide slip fielder. When Mahela Jayawardena completed a smart catch, Perera became the fourth Sri Lankan to pick up an ODI hat-trick.
Two balls later Sohail Tanvir gave a fine rendition of a deer in the headlights, blocking a ball towards the bowler and haring off for a single. By the time he was turned back, Perera had run down the pitch, picked up the ball and under-armed it into the stumps in one motion.
If the collapse of the 41st over packed hours worth of action into a few moments, the overs that preceded it were so sedate it was scarcely believable. With Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq departing fairly early, it was left to Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq to shepherd the chase. Azhar, who scored the slowest ODI half-century by a Pakistani since Mohammad Yousuf consumed 104 balls to get to the 50-run mark against South Africa in 2007, set the base, while Misbah tried to get the innings going.
When Misbah (57) holed out to Nuwan Kulasekara at mid off, Sri Lanka were back in the game. The carnage that followed, however, was something no-one could have anticipated. Azhar cut a lonely figure, unbeaten on 81 as the lower order ensured that they equalled their own record of maximum ducks in an innings - six. The collapse, in which seven wickets fell for 13 runs in 24 balls, gave Sri Lanka a 2-1 lead in the series with one match to play.
In the first half of the game, Pakistan stayed well on course despite being asked to field first with a hint of rain about.Â Mohammad Hafeez, took the pace off the ball and put Tillakaratne Dilshan out of his misery. Sweeping from the stumps, Dilshan missed, and his 47-ball stay at the crease was cut short for a yield of only 24. Dinesh Chandimal, who joined Sangakkara out in the middle, struggled for fluency. He too made the error of trying to force the pace when the ball was on target, and a missed cut shot left Chandimal's stumps pegged back. While 90 for three wasn't disastrous, with Sangakkara and Jayawardena still at the crease, the fact that more than half the overs had been consumed, and the outfield was slowed down by a downpour meant that progress would be slow.
Once Sangakkara had a good measure of the surface, he was able to build a partnership with Jayawardena. The two added 110 for the fourth wicket before Jayawardena's attempt to deflect a yorker from Tanvir failed. In the course of their partnership, the Sangakkara-Jayawardena pair became only the fourth duo in history to put on 11,000 or more international runs together. Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar (12,400), Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes (11,688), and Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar (11,037) had already hit that mark. However, less than one over after Jayawardena fell, Sangakkara followed, caught in the deep by Azhar. Sangakkara, who had taken 130 balls for 97, was visibly unhappy to be given out after consultations with the third umpire. As is so often the case, though replays did not really positively confirm that Ali got his fingers under the ball as he dived full length, Sangakkara was given out. Still, Sangakkara had done enough to take his team to 243, a score that would prove to be enough.