On March 3, 2009, a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers was fired upon by 12 shooters near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. The cricketers were en route stadium to play the third day of the second Test against the home team. Six members of the Sri Lanka national cricket team were injured, and six Pakistani policemen along with two civilians were killed.
Even before the 2009 attack, the safety of touring cricket teams in Pakistan had long been an issue. In May 2002, the New Zealand team had to abandon their Test series after a suicide bomb attack took place outside their hotel. Countries like Australia, England had refused to visit Pakistan on safety grounds. In fact, the Sri Lanka tour wasn’t the preferred choice either. The Lankan team was the replacement for the Indian side who cancelled their tour after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
In the Lankan team attack, cricketers like Mahela Jayawardene, then captain Kumar Sangakkara, spinner Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paravitarana received injuries. Now after several years of the horrific experiences, Sangakkara has recalled that attack and talked about how the Lankan boys felt when they went through that disaster.
During the chat with former England skipper Michael Atherton, Sanga spoke about his early days when Sri Lanka was facing a civil war. He also mentioned how the cricketers and local Islanders survived the Tsunami. While explaining that, the former international brought the experience his team felt in Lahore.
“I think what we saw during the Tsunami, and with what we’ve seen since then in society, in the war zones all of these things, I think it allowed us to put Lahore into perspective,” said Sangakkara.
Atherton then asked the 42-year-old to describe the memories of March 3, 2009, when the attack happened.
Sangakkara said that during that time, other teams were not interested in travelling to Pakistan, but we decided to go.
“It was the tour organised by the then interim committee chairman Arjuna Ranatunga. For some reason to Pakistan at a time when all the countries were not going, and security was an issue, we had written to him on our concerns with security and of course exploring insurance for the players if something did happen and which was very very politely refused and then he said ‘we had done all the groundwork to ensure security’. So we went,” Sanga added.
The former wicket-keeper then revealed how one of our bowlers jokingly mentioned a bomb attack in order to cancel the tour as he was not happy with the flat tracks.
“People were talking about the usual thing on the bus. One of our fast bowlers says ‘you know wickets are so bloody flat that I’m gonna put a stress fracture or something and I hope a bomb goes off so we could go home’ and 20 seconds later this happens. So, we heard the gunshots; we thought it was firecrackers. One of our guys went up and said ‘get down they are shooting at the bus’,” he said
Further, Sangakkara stated that when the shooting began, all players assembled at one position inside the bus to escape from the gunshots.
“Dishan was in the front, and I was at the centre. Mahela always sits through right at the back and Murali sith through right behind me. I remember Tharanga was seated in front and hell broke really. We hit the aisle at the bus, and everyone was on top of each other. Then the shooting started, and they (terrorists) just shot the bus as many times as they could throw grenades and fired a rocket launcher and all of these, and for some reason, I don’t know why we all survived.”
The first non-British MCC president articulated that the whole team survived because of the bus driver as the gunmen tried to shoot him but they missed.
“Thilan was injured, I got hit in the shoulder, Ajantha Mendis was injured. ‘Oohs and AAhs’ were all over the bus. Unfortunately, most of the security personnel guarding us died, and the bus driver was also targeted, but the bullet missed, and probably that’s the reason why we all survived.”
The Matale-born further mentioned that the shooting experience got all the members to think about people who go through these things every day in their life like Military personnel etc.
“But I know at no time did we feel sorry for ourselves. We didn’t get together in a huddle and say oh my god, why us. I think a lot of talks was about just being surprised that we’ve gone through three to four minutes of what other people go through every day. We have people who have laid down their lives for the country; we had people fighting on the side of the military. We had innocent people dying with various suicide attacks, and there were people caught in the war zone. But that experience has taught us that to get back with life as best as you can,” concluded Sangakkara.