Best ODI bowling performanceThisara Perera
6 for 44, second ODI, Pallekele
Thisara Perera, the Sri Lankan seam-bowling allrounder, had the reputation of being an effective limited-overs player from the time he made his international debut in late 2009. By June 2012, he had justified his potential, topping the wickets table - 11 at a strike rate of 19, including a hat-trick - in the series win at home over Pakistan.
Perera's selection and success reflected a change in Sri Lanka's emphasis from spin to pace in the post-Muralitharan era. In the late '80s and '90s the team had had the likes of Asanka Gurusinha and Chandika Hathurusingha bowling medium pace, but they had primarily been top-order batsmen. For much of the '90s, Sri Lanka's bowling comprised several spinners who were more than a handful on the slow, low pitches at home: Muttiah Muralitharan, with Upul Chandana, Kumar Dharmasena and Sanath Jayasuriya for variety. Chandana and Dharmasena were handy down the order too. After them, Farveez Maharoof had the makings of a seam-bowling allrounder, but he failed to nail down the position.
Following Murali's retirement, and the decline of Ajantha Mendis, a once spin-heavy attack began to rely more on pace. The change in the character of pitches at home played its part. Surfaces at the Premadasa and at the new Pallekele stadium offered a bit more assistance to the seamers. Angelo Mathews and Perera came to occupy the allrounder slots in the XI, giving the attack a better balance in limited-overs matches.
Perera is the quicker bowler of the two and bats lower down the order, performing the role of a finisher. As a bowler, he slots in as the third or fourth seamer, depending on the composition of the side. His athletic prowess and reflexes make him an asset in the field.
In the second ODI, in Pallekele, he muscled a 14-ball 24 to lift Sri Lanka to 280. It was an appetiser for things to come, for when he took the ball, his impact was far more telling. After Pakistan had moved comfortably to 48 for no loss from the first ten overs, Mahela Jayawardene threw the ball to Perera.
It took just one ball to justify Jayawardene's decision, when Mohammad Hafeez chipped the ball back towards Perera, who managed to fling himself in the opposite direction of his follow-through and pluck the catch one-handed.
In his fourth over, Perera took the wicket of Younis Khan - Kumar Sangakkara making no mistake this time, after having dropped Younis at the start of the over.
In his first spell, of five overs, he ended up with 2 for 24. When he was taken off, Pakistan focused on preserving wickets, but the asking rate was hitting seven. At the end of 29 overs, they had moved to 127 for 2, with Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq adding 49. Jayawardene felt it was time to bring back his only wicket-taker.
Again Perera struck with his first ball. He landed an offcutter on a good length, Misbah played forward and the ball hit the back pad. In the third over of the spell, Perera got Umar Akmal, though it was a lucky dismissal - the Sri Lankans and the umpire were convinced Akmal had nicked it but the replays didn't concur. In the absence of the DRS, the umpire's call was final.
Jayawardene took Perera off, intending to keep his main bowler of the night away from the batting Powerplay, taken after 35 overs, during which Sri Lanka got rid of Azhar for 96 and Shahid Afridi for 17. Pakistan never found the acceleration in the middle overs, as wickets fell steadily. The pressure created by Perera was too much to handle.
He came back in the 41st, and struck, yet again, with his first ball. Sohail Tanvir tried to whip it over deep square leg but didn't get the distance and found Upul Tharanga in the deep. It was Perera's third five-for in ODIs, to go with his performances against India in Dambulla and Australia at the MCG.
This spell lasted just one over, and when he returned for his final one, Perera struck again, though this time not with the first ball. Umar Gul tried to slog and was trapped lbw on the back pad.
Perera finished with 6 for 44, his best figures in ODIs and the best by any bowler against Pakistan, bettering Sourav Ganguly's 5 for 16 in Toronto in 1997*. It was also sixth on the list of best bowling performances by a Sri Lankan in home ODIs.
The performance underlined Perera's role in the side as the impact player, capable of turning a match around with crucial, momentum-breaking strikes. Jayawardene, too, should take credit for his judicious use of his trump card through the 50 overs.
* March 12 2.00am GMT The year in which Ganguly took 5 for 16 in Toronto has been corrected
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo