The cricket gods first make mad those they wish to destroy: the mind-boggling highs and lows of Akila Dananjaya

Three overs into the West Indies reply in Antigua in the first T20, the camera alighted on Mickey Arthur, who mercifully had dispensed with the tight and slightly revealing shorts that had adorned him during England’s tour to Sri Lanka in January.

But the tourists’ coach still wore the sour and pained look of man who had been mercilessly mocked on Twitter to the point that those shorts had earned their own parody account.

For West Indies had romped to 51 without loss, Evin Lewis striking Angelo Mathews for three mighty sixes in the first over and Lendl Simmons joining in the fun against Dushmantha Chameera moments later. With Sri Lanka having amassed only 131 from their 20 overs after a promising start, things did indeed look grim enough for Arthur to parade that pinched look.

But suddenly:

Akila Dananjaya, having been pulled by Lewis for another four, struck. The left-hander, whose 176 retired hurt from 130 balls in a ODI v England at the Oval in 2107 is one of the more memorable 50-over knocks of recent times, went distance again, driving fearsomely towards long off, the ball screaming through the air with the precision of a cruise missile and taking all the courage Danushka Gunathilake could muster to intercept it.

52-1 from 3.2

Chris Gayle, back in the T20 side for the first time in two years minus five days, played round his first ball, the off break evading his closing bat face and trapping him lbw.

52-2 from 3.3

Nicholas Pooran, increasingly one of the most feared men in this form of the game, trooped in – and trooped out again, driving at a ball that spun away from him, caught a sizeable outside edge and was very well caught by Niroshan Dickwella behind the stumps.

52-3 from 3.4

It was a rapid but impressively redemptive body of work by a man who has had his difficulties in recent years. Hailed by Mahela Jayawardene after bowling to him in the nets before he had played a first-class game, he was fast-tracked to the squad for the 2012 World T20 with a bag of tricks that held a leg break, a googly, a carom ball and a doosra, not to mention a stock off break.

In that series he picked up five wickets at an average of just over 14 and an economy rate of 6.72 but after two more matches, in one of which he took two for nine from two overs, and one ODI, he was discarded for the best part of four years.

He forced his way back into the team when India’s ODI team toured for a five- match series in 2017 and that early potential was in evidence again as he bamboozled his opponents’ top order, ripping out six of them – including a bemused Virat Kohli a cost of just 19 runs in a five-over spell. India recovered to win but Dananjaya seemed to be riding a wave.

A few months later, he won his first Test cap, in Bangladesh, and by November, after being awarded a central contract by the Sri Lankan board, England got their first sight of him as he picked up 10 wickets in two Tests, including six for 115 at Pallekele.

But the following month his career again hit the rocks – in the most alarming way for a bowler when his action was deemed illegal. Remedial work enabled him to return for a Test against New Zealand in August 2019 but after a six-wicket match haul in Galle he was once more posted to the international wilderness, suspended for a year. That ban ended last August but with the pandemic restricting international travel he was unable to visit an ICC biomechanics lab to test the degree of flexion in his bowling arm.

In the end, the Sri Lankans provided footage of his action and although he played in the Lanka Premier League, he was not cleared again to play in international cricket until early January.

In all, you might say that following the trials and tribulations, few cricketers deserved the high of a hat-trick more than him.

But the cricket gods first make mad those they wish to destroy, and just when Dananjaya thought he would be making headlines for the right reasons, those headlines were snatched away in the most ruthless way.

Boom! 68-4 Down on one knee, Kieron Pollard smashes over long-on

Bang! 74-4 Into the sightscreen, pure muscle

Biff! 80-4 A touch wider and fuller, struck over long-off

Bam! 86-4 Length ball, clubbed over mid-wicket with the spin

Boff! 92-4 Rocking back, straight over the bowler’s head

And WHALLOOOOP! 98-4 Round the wicket, a change of angle doesn’t help, clipped over mid-wicket.

Pollard, two not out before the over started, was now 38 not out and has joined Herschelle Gibbs and Yuvraj Singh in a very small clique of clubbers to have smashed six successive sixes in international cricket.

Danajaya, meanwhile, on his first return to international cricket, had gone from 2-0-17-3 to 3-0-53-3. He looked bewildered, lost, almost in shock, especially when the first ball of his fourth over got similar treatment from Jason Holder. Seven in a row.

And Mickey Arthur’s shorts? If he’d been wearing them, he’d have probably felt that someone had given him a wedgie.

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