Lankan players agree that had they sat still, they would have diedMarch 6th, 2009 - 2:07 pm ICT by ANI
Colombo, Mar.6 (ANI): A majority of the Sri Lankan cricketers who were caught in the middle of a crossfire between security forces and terrorists in Lahore on Tuesday, have said that had they sat still, they would have died. Backing British match referee Chris Broads claims that Pakistani police officers did not promptly return fire during Tuesday’’s attack, Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said the bus in which they were traveling stood still for about a minute and a half as the attackers fired at will.
As far as Jayawardene could tell, there was no police gunfire at the attackers.
“They were not under pressure nobody was firing at them,” The Scotsman quoted him, as saying.
On Wednesday, after returning to Britain, Broad, a former England batsman, voiced his disgust at the behaviour of the security detail during the attack.
“There was not a sign of a policeman anywhere. They had clearly left the scene and left us to be sitting ducks,” Broad said.
Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, rejected Broad’’s claims, saying:
“It is very unfortunate what he has said. All he has said is totally untrue and fabricated.”
Seven Pakistanis six policemen and the driver of a bus carrying match officials were killed in the assault.
At their press conference in Colombo, the Sri Lankan players recounted the moments before the attack.
The players said they felt comfortable and sank into their usual routines as they left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. for the 15-minute drive to the stadium in a convoy of police Jeeps, motorcycles and an ambulance.
On the journey, the batsman Kumar Sangakkara talked about going out shopping after the match, while Jayawardene grew frustrated that his wife was not answering his phone calls. The coach, Trevor Bayliss, was trying to sleep off a raging headache. Other players laughed and joked.
As the convoy approached a roundabout outside the stadium, two explosions and a burst of gunfire rang out.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, a player sitting in his ritual pre-game seat at the front of the bus, told how he saw two white cars race towards the convoy in reverse. One slammed into the roundabout, then the driver climbed out and began shooting towards the bus driver. Two more gunmen got out of the second car and joined the attack.
“I shouted, ”They are shooting at us everyone down”,” Dilshan said.
Other players at first thought someone had set off some firecrackers. “Our immediate reaction was to step out and see what’’s the noise, why are we stopping,” Sangakkara said.
Then Jayawardene looked out of the window and saw two police officers on a motorcycle trying to avoid the bullets before falling to the ground.
Mehar Khalil, the Pakistani bus driver, said between ten and 12 young attackers had ambushed the bus. Some stood in the road shooting at the police escorts, others fired from the centre of the roundabout. Some attacked from behind the convoy, he said. He told how one attacker had fired a rocket, but it missed. Others threw two hand grenades, but they also missed, he said.
The cricketers and coaches scrambled to the floor, squeezing into the aisle and between rows of seats for safety.
“After that, we were just hearing bullet after bullet thump into the bus,” Sangakkara said. “We were hearing gunshots, a few explosions and you could see bullets sometimes hitting a seat.”
Jayawardene told the news conference: “It was just a constant barrage of bullets. We don”t know which direction it was coming from. It was just all over.”
Bayliss said that the team didn”t panic, even when the bullets began finding their mark.
“Everything was very calm and very quiet, and every now and then someone would say, ”I”m hit”, and then someone else said, ”So am I”, and someone else said, ”I”m hit as well”,” he said.
Jayawardene felt his foot go numb. A bullet had grazed his ankle.
Tharanga Paranavithana, who suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, mumbled something. As Sangakkara turned to listen, a bullet zipped past his head and slammed into a seat. Then, shrapnel tore through his shoulder.
Lying next to him, Thilan Samaraweera was shot in the leg and crawled down the aisle to hide his head behind a metal casing for protection, Sangakkara said.
Many of the players thought they would never make it out alive.
People in the front began yelling, “Go, go, go”, and the driver fumbled with the gears before slowly manoeuvring the bus around the assailants” cars and the two police escort cars that had been stopped in the attack, the players said.
It took several minutes for him to guide the bus into the stadium, all the while bullets flying past, they said.
After making it to safety, the players heard sporadic bursts of gunfire outside for a further ten minutes, Sangakkara said.
The players and officials inside the Gaddafi stadium carried the wounded into a locker room. The bus was drenched in blood. The driver counted 35 bullet holes. (ANI)
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