Terror struck at the heart of cricket when masked gunmen attacked the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Five cricketers, including Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, and his deputy Kumar Sangakkara, received minor injuries. The attack also left six security men and two civilians dead.
Ijaz Butt, the PCB chief, said the Test has been called off. Salman Tasheer, the Punjab governor, said a helicopter will soon evacuate the Sri Lankan players from Gaddafi Stadium and take them to a nearby airbase from where the team will fly back to Sri Lanka. Duleep Mendis, the Sri Lanka Cricket chief, said that they were “getting the team back [to Sri Lanka] today”.
There have been terror strikes on the peripheries of cricket, but this is the first time players have been directly targeted. The Sri Lankans were on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium when their bus was attacked by five armed terrorists near Liberty market. Habibur Rehman, chief commissioner of police, said 12 masked terrorists fired at the Sri Lankan team bus. The gunmen shot at the wheels of the bus and also injured the driver. A grenade was also thrown at the bus but it missed.
Jayawardene received a cut to the ankle while Sangakkara was injured in the shoulder. Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paravitarana were the ones most seriously injured; both received shrapnels in the chest. Ajantha Mendis received a minor injury in the back.
“The bus came under attack as we were driving to the stadium, the gunmen targeted the wheels of the bus first and then the bus,” Mahela Jayawardene told Cricinfo. “We all dived to the floor to take cover. About five players have been injured and also Paul Farbrace [a member of the support staff], but most of the injuries appear to be minor at this stage and caused by debris.”
Security concerns in Pakistan
* September 2001- New Zealand decide not to tour Pakistan following USA’s military action in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. West Indies and Australia then decide to move their games in Pakistan scheduled for later in the year to neutral venues in Colombo and Sharjah.
* May 2002 – New Zealand cancel their tour of Pakistan after a bomb blast outside Karachi’s Sheraton Hotel where they were staying.
* March 2008 – Australia postpone their tour of Pakistan slated for the end of March as a result of security concerns.The decision was taken in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assasination in December 2007.
* October 2008 – West Indies call off a proposed tour of Pakistan scheduled for November citing security concerns, a week after the West Indies Women had cancelled the Pakistan leg of their Asian tour.
* December 2008 – The BCCI call off India’s scheduled tour of Pakistan in 2009 following a directive from the government.
* December 2008 – The PCB confirm that Sri Lanka will tour Pakistan after India decided not to after the Mumbai terror attack.
* February 2009 – The ICC decide not to stage the 2009 Champions Trophy in Pakistan after some of the members expressed reservations about touring the country.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, confirmed that the remainder of the tour had been cancelled. “We note with dismay and regret the events of this morning in Lahore and we condemn this attack without reservation.
“It is a source of great sadness that there have been a number of fatalities in this attack and it is also very upsetting for the wider cricket family that some of the Sri Lanka players and one match official have been injured in this attack. At this time our thoughts and prayers are with the injured people and also the families of those who have died.”
Television footage of several gunmen creeping through the trees, crouching to aim their kalashnikovs then running onto the next target were aired by Pakistan’s private channel Geo.
Chamra Ranavira, third secretary and press secretary at the Sri Lankan High Commission in Islamabad, said Samaraweera and Paranavitana had been admitted to hospital, but were out of danger now. “We are communicating with the Pakistan Cricket Board and the high commission has taken action to send the cricket team back home as soon as possible,” he said.
The reserve umpire Ahsan Raza was also injured in the attack. Nadeem Ghauri, the TV umpire, who was traveling in a bus behind the Sri Lanka team bus said the firing continued for some time. Umpire Steve Davis, who was on the team bus, called the terrorist attack “terrible”. “I’m lost for words,” he said.
Speaking from Sri Lanka, Sanath Jayasuriya said that it was an “extremely unfortunate incident. “We’ve never had this kind of problem,” Jayasuriya told CNN-IBN. “They are all safe, that’s the good news I got when I spoke to Kumar. I don’t think they’ll stay back and play. I think they will come back as soon as possible. Depends on the injuries.”
Speaking on Geo TV, Inzamam-ul-Haq, the former Pakistan captain, said: “This is the first time that a cricket team has been seriously targeted… Pakistan’s image will be hit and only time will tell how much damage has been done to Pakistan cricket. The World Cup too might be affected… no country would want to come now to Pakistan… I am worried where Pakistan will get a chance to play, not only in Pakistan but outside as well. This is all so sad.”
The Indian cricket board, which called off a scheduled tour of Pakistan last December, expressed its sorrow over the attack. “We pray for the speedy recovery of the injured cricketers, and sympathise with their families and compatriots,” BCCI Secretary N Srinivasan said in New Delhi. “The BCCI stands alongside Sri Lanka Cricket in this hour of crisis.”
The Sri Lankan team had stepped in after the Indian government had barred the Indian team from touring Pakistan after the terror attack in Mumbai.