On March 3, 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by terrorists near the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. It remains one of the most tragic incidents in the game.
The attack happened when the Sri Lankan team was reaching the ground to play the third day of the second Test against Pakistan. Just as the visiting team was about to enter the stadium, the gunmen opened fire and even threw grenades at the bus carrying the players.
The attack led to the death of six Pakistani security officers and two civilians, apart from injuring six Sri Lankan cricketers. The worst hit among the players was batsman Thilan Samaraweera who was shot on his right leg.
In a recent interview with former England captain Michael Atherton for Sky Sports, Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara, who was on the bus when the attack took place, recalled the horrific incident.
Sangakkara remembered how he and his teammates saved themselves when they were under attack and how the incident helped them gain perspective about life.
Here’s what he had to say:
“It was a tour organised by the then interim committee chairman Arjuna Ranatunga. For some reason they planned a tour of Pakistan when no other country was going there due to security issues. We had even written to him [Ranatunga] regarding our concerns and to explore insurance for players if something were to happen. Which was very politely refused, they said they had done all their ground work. So we went.
On the day of the attack, we were having our usual banter on the bus, people were talking about what we were going to do that evening. One of our fast bowlers said ‘wickets are so bloody flat here, I am going to get a stress fracture or something. I hope a bomb goes off, so we could go home’.
And 20 seconds later, this happens.
Our team’s masseur at the time was in the front, we heard the gunshots, we thought they were firecrackers. He got up and said ‘get down, they are shooting the bus’. I think Dilshan [Tillakaratne] was also in front, I was more central. Mahela [Jayawardene] always sat right at the back, Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] was sitting right behind me so that he can annoy Thilan Samaraweera. I remember Tharanga Paranavitana, the opener who was on his debut tour I think, was in front.
Well, all hell broke loose. We hid in the aisle of the bus, everyone on top of each other really, and then the shooting started. They shot the bus as many times they could, threw grenades, and even fired a rocket launcher. And for some reason, I don’t know why, we all survived.
Thilan was injured, I got hit on the shoulder with a lot of shrapnel. Ajantha Mendis was injured. Tharanga Paranavitana gets up bleeding from his chest and collapses saying he’s been shot. We hear ‘oohs and aahs’ from all over the bus. Paul Farbrace has an iron spike through his hand.
We tried to get into the ground, which was only about 500 meters from where we were. Unfortunately, most of the security personnel that was guarding us died. That was tragic. They tried to shoot the bus driver but missed him by a couple of inches. We survived probably because he was left alive to drive us through that. Every day he used to take four attempts to get through the narrow gate, but this time, he drove in straight into the ground and we got off.
We thought Tharanga Paranavitan had died but he felt his back and said that there’s no hole in it. Thilan was carried off by the ambulance to his hospital because he was shot and was bleeding everywhere.
Being the Sri Lanka Cricket team, there comes a joke from one side and a bit of laughter from the other and everyone started breathing, talking, chatting. But at no time did we feel sorry for ourselves. We didn’t get into a huddle and think: ‘why us?’ I think a lot of the talk was about the fact that we went through three-four minutes of what many others go through everyday (in war zones etc). It was amazing to see the team talk about stuff like that.”
Watch Sangakkara’s full interview with Atherton here where he talks about growing up in Sri Lanka, the tsunami in 2004 and more:
First part of the interview here: