`We were naive to feel safe in Pakistan,” says Sangakkara

March 4th, 2009 - 3:26 pm ICT by ANI  

Colombo, Mar.4 (ANI): In an article for the Telegraph, Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara writes that in hindsight every players in the team was just to naive to think that they would not be attacked by extremists.
Recalling the incident, he said Tuesday started as just another day in Lahore: a morning report to the fitness trainer to check our hydration levels, a quick breakfast and cup of coffee and an 8.30 a.m. departure to the ground.
We were all looking forward to the third day’’s play of the second Test, and trying to win the series.
Our team bus left with three to four police cars in a convoy, with around 12 policemen and security officers. Along the route, road junctions were cleared and side roads closed to ensure we passed through the traffic easily.
Traffic came close but it was all routine and we did not feel threatened. Up until yesterday there had been no hint of danger.
The guys were all having fun in the bus as we usually do, cracking jokes and sharing banter. Some were chatting about the first session and the need for early wickets, a couple of others were talking about Lahore shopping before our scheduled departure on Friday.
Then, as we approached the large roundabout before the Gaddafi Stadium, having used the same route for the third time, we suddenly heard a noise like a firecracker. The bus came to a halt and some of the guys stood to up to see what was happening. Then came the shout: “They are shooting at us!”
From the front I heard the shouts of “get down, get down” and we all hit the deck. Within seconds we were all sprawled along the floor, lying on top of each other and taking shelter below the seats. The gunfire became louder, we heard explosions (which I understand now were hand grenades) and bullets started to flash through the bus.
I was sitting next to Thilan Samaraweera and close to the young Tharanga Paranavitana, who was playing his first international series. For some reason I moved my head to get a better view and a spilt second later I felt a bullet fizz past my ear into the vacant seat.
Fortunately, as a team, we remained quite calm. No one panicked. After what must have been two minutes standing still we urged the driver to make a run for the stadium just a few hundred metres away: “Go, go, go” we shouted.
We owe our lives to Mohammad Khalil, the driver. The tyres of the bus had been shot out and he was in great danger, exposed to gunfire at the front of the bus. But he was hell bent of getting us to safety and, somehow, he got us moving again. Had he not acted with such courage and presence of mind in the face of incredible danger, most of us would have been dead.
Standing still we were sitting ducks. We only found out afterwards that a rocket launcher fired from the other side just missed us as we turned for the stadium gates, the rocket blowing up an electricity pylon.
Khalil saw a hand grenade tossed at us that failed to explode. Someone must have been looking over us because right now it seems a miracle we survived.
As we moved towards the stadium, Tharanga announced he was hit as he sat up holding his chest. He collapsed on to his seat and I feared the worst. Incredibly, the bullet hit his sternum at such an angle that it did not penetrate. He was fine. Shortly afterwards Thilan complained of a numbness in his leg, which we later found out was a bullet wound.
Thilan and Tharanga were the worst hit. Just before reaching safety I felt a dull ache in my shoulder. Shards of metal, shrapnel, were lodged in the muscle. After being quickly evacuated to the dressing room the paramedics attended to those with minor wounds. My cuts were cleaned.
Ajantha Mendis had several shards of metal removed from his head and neck after his hair was shaved off. Paul Farbrace, our assistant coach, had a large piece of shrapnel removed from his arm. Mahela Jayawardene had a minor cut to his ankle. After a while we started to calm down, and the phones started ringing.
We had always felt pretty safe in Pakistan, to be honest. It shows how naive we were. We realise now that sports people and cricketers are not above being attacked.
All the talk that “no one would target cricketers” seems so hollow. Far from being untouchable, we are now prize targets for extremists. That is an uncomfortable reality we have to come to terms with.
In future, we need to consider carefully how to better tackle the issue of security in a new post-Lahore reality. Pushing the blame around between national boards, governments and the ICC right now will not help. We need to consider a more centralised system for assessing security and a more open sharing of security information with the players and their representatives, as well as board and ICC officials.
From a Pakistan perspective, it is tragic this has happened. Pakistan is a great country with a strong cricket tradition and a very hospitable people. We like playing cricket there, but the presence of a small minority pursuing their own agendas at any cost will surely prevent tours for the foreseeable future.
Will we go back? Will I go back? When you have been through what we have experienced, when you have been targeted and hit by terrorists yourselves, coming back is a big question.
It cannot be answered now. I suspect, too, it can only be answered as an individual. Our families will never feel the same about us leaving to play in Pakistan. That is sad for Pakistan and world cricket. (ANI)

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