As Sri Lanka limped into the changing sheds, having posted a mere 125-8 in their final Twenty20 clash against the Black Caps, they knew victory would require an extraordinary bowling display.

Their captain produced one of the greatest in cricket history.

Four wickets in four balls from Lasith Malinga turned what looked to be a simple Black Caps victory into pure pandemonium for the cacophonous crowd in Pallekele, with the 36-year-old turning back the clock with a performance for the ages.

The first man to take four in four in an Twenty20 international, Malinga dismissed Colin Munro, Hamish Rutherford, Colin de Grandhomme and Ross Taylor in consecutive deliveries to claim an absurd four-wicket maiden.

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Even more absurd? He wasn't finished.

After blocking out three balls of Malinga's next over and watching a wide sail by, Tim Seifert was caught at slip - making it five wickets for no runs. It seems so improbable, it bares repeating. 5-0.

It was simply a perfect display of swing bowling. Munro went for a big swing and watched his leg stump cartwheel before Rutherford – flown in as an emergency replacement for his first Twenty20 international in nearly six years – wasted a flight, trapped lbw first ball by an inswinger.

Facing the hat-trick ball, de Grandhomme had no clue about another searing swinging yorker, and Taylor, too, couldn't do anything with an unplayable delivery that crushed him on the foot, plumb lbw.

New Zealand's Colin de Grandhomme is bowled by Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga. Photo / AP
New Zealand's Colin de Grandhomme is bowled by Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga. Photo / AP

The Black Caps' hopes of a series sweep had disappeared, vanished into thin air by some Malinga magic.

This was meant to be a story about the Black Caps bowlers.

Todd Astle had bamboozled the Sri Lankan batsmen with his wrong-uns, taking two of his three wickets against batsmen who couldn't pick the turn. Surely it would be he who would be the day's most unplayable bowler.

Mitchell Santner had finished with the remarkable figures of 3-12 from four overs, claiming a wicket maiden and varying his speed, angle, bounce and length on a slow wicket to frustrate the Sri Lankan batsmen. He would definitely be the game's most economical bowler.

Tim Southee had completed yet another brilliant spell, backing up his returns of 2-20 and 2-18 with an excellent 0-16. No captain would have as big an impact on this series as he did.

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Whoops.

Instead, 12 years after becoming the first player in international cricket history to take four wickets in four balls, at the 2007 ODI World Cup against South Africa, Malinga became the first person to do it twice.

Such was the unnerving accuracy, swing, whip and speed on his yorkers, that once he found his line, there was almost an air of inevitability as to what would happen next. Poor Taylor, especially, could do nothing about his toecrusher, and it frankly was surprising that Malinga didn't surpass Ajantha Mendis (6-8) for the best figures in T20I history.

Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga celebrates taking a hat trick wicket of New Zealand's Colin de Grandhomme. Photo / AP
Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga celebrates taking a hat trick wicket of New Zealand's Colin de Grandhomme. Photo / AP

No, instead – somehow – No 11 Seth Rance kept out five balls of his final over, and Southee the last ball of one of the greatest Twenty20 performances, as Malinga finished with figures of 5-6, and the enduring adulation of the crowd.

So, about the 21 other players who were playing. We should probably get to them.

Even after Malinga's destruction, the Black Caps still had a realistic chance at victory. Chasing only 126, the required run rate rarely rose above seven an over, so it was just a matter of keeping wickets in hand.

Santner and Daryl Mitchell added 23 for the sixth wicket, but just as things were looking plausible, another calamitous collapse took place.

First, Mitchell was run out, with wicketkeeper Kusal Perera botching the throw from the deep but, in an incredible slice of luck, fumbling it onto the stumps. Mitchell had to go, and his replacement, Scott Kuggeleijn, was the fourth Black Cap to be dismissed for a golden duck, with a ball from Akila Dananjaya hitting his elbow and slowly bouncing onto the stumps.

Two balls after that, Santner was stumped, and three wickets had fallen in four balls – a usually incredible feat turned into a mere afterthought, considering the scenes that had gone before it.

Astle came out and was trapped lbw on three consecutive deliveries – the umpire only realising on the third occasion – leaving Rance and Southee to touch gloves, in the 10th over, ridiculously, with the Black Caps at 52-9.

They edged past New Zealand's lowest ever Twenty20 total – 60, also against Sri Lanka – before Southee bludgeoned three sixes in an over off Lakshan Sandakan to suddenly bring the requirement down to 44 runs off just 44 balls.

Any other day, any other team, and there'd be no cause for concern, but based on recent events - Hey, remember that collision? And, oh, those four wickets in four balls?? – it was ill-advised to write anything off.

The pair batted for six overs as they produced the second-highest 10th wicket stand in Twenty20 international history, but with 38 needed from 25 balls, Rance's rearguard finally ended, and so did one of the more remarkable games of Twenty20 cricket you'll ever see.

The final figures? A 37-run win, and the Black Caps bowled out for 88. But that's merely minutiae; footnotes that will be lost to history.

Malinga's magic, though? Now that will never be forgotten.