While we are still groping in the dark when interpreting the culprits and motivations behind the attack on the cricketing entourage heading for Gaddafi Stadium on 3rd March 2009, it is not out of place to highlight some of the heroes of that event, a few recognised THEN …. but there are, in my view, two more to add to that list.
Arguably, the whole corpus of players and officials within the entourage can be lauded for continuing with their trades, whether as umpires, match officials or cricketers, after that terrifying experience. Indeed, in commenting on the incident immediately afterwards from a ‘neutral’ seat, the English cricket writer David Hopps applauded “the composure” revealed by the Sri Lankan team and officials tout court. He described their equanimity as “extraordinary.” He added: “there have been no recriminations, no histrionics, just a team grateful to have survived.” Implicit within these comments from Hopps is the suggestion that the English and Australian cricketers may not have been quite as calm.
This verdict was endorsed independently in an email from the Pakistani authoress, Kamila Shamsie, written to me on 3 March 2009 in response to one of my inquiries: “The Sri Lankan players have been extraordinary in all this.”
I have since elaborated upon the fortitude of the Sri Lankan cricketers by summarizing the responses provided by two senior cricketers when they were questioned by Al Jazeera immediately afterwards: viz, Mahela Jayewardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Mahela explicitly brought his Buddhist background and belief in karma into his clarification: “I am a Buddhist and I think we have done some merit in our previous birth to escape with minor injuries.”
Thus informed, I conjectured that the relative composure of the Sri Lankan team arose from their nourishment in “a milieu that (a) encouraged people to reflect upon life’s impermanence and (b) a recent history of “violence” – referring here to the Eelam wars and the JVP insurrection of 1987-89].
In presenting these conjectures as an analyst in a previous essay, I self-consciously marked the fact that I had avoided any use of the term “trauma.” By doing so I marked the difference between the cultural conditioning of academics and journalists in the Western world and those, like me, nourished in South Asia. Here, too, of course I am indulging in speculation.
Thus far, the literature on the topic has identified three heroes among those who survived the attack (five policemen and one driver died). They are
- Chris Broad (match referee), who slid down on the floor of the minibus beside the bleeding Ahsan Raza and stemmed the flow of blood from his bullet wounds as best he could. He has indicated recently that “it was an automatic reaction, to help Ahsan. Whether it helped or not, I don’t know. I saw a huge amount of blood coming out of his back. I leapt up and put pressure on his back to try and stop the blood.”
- Ahsan Raza for bearing the pain from two bullets that pierced his lungs… and displaying fortitude in returning to his profession as umpire.
- Meher Mohammed Khalil, the driver of the large bus conveying the cricketers, for his act of driving the vehicle (presumably from a crouched position?) from the site of attack (a roundabout) to the Gaddafi Stadium.
Let me, now, identify two more heroes –unsung in my previous account.
- FOUR: Tillakaratne Dilshan, who always at the front of a team bus (and was ‘unmarked’ by shrapnel). He persuaded Khalil to rise from the floor and resume driving the bus from a crouched position; while giving him directions. Here, let Paul Farbrace’s vivid description take centre stage:
“Bullets were hitting the bus, but everybody was incredibly calm. It was an eerie calm. There were bullets pinging the bus, hitting the glass, but the only voice I could hear was Dilshan’s. It was a very distinctive voice. I can still hear it now, I probably will for the rest of my life.
He would always sit right behind the driver. I could hear him shouting to the bus driver to reverse. The driver had got himself under the steering wheel and was steering with his arms above his head.
He’d started to reverse back like this while Dilshan was the one popping his head up and giving him directions to get away from the attack.
The driver was given huge credit, and his skills in getting us out of the situation were incredible, but to this day I think Dilshan’s bravery saved our lives. Sticking his head up and talking the driver through it, telling him where to turn, that probably saved us.”
- FIVE: Lal Thamel, the masseur accompanying the SL team, who stood tall when the bus reached Gaddafi Stadium and shepherded those cricketers bleeding from shrapnel wounds … and eventually accompanied Thilan Samaraweera in the ambulance taking him to hospital.
In general, there is overwhelming evidence of composure and competence on many fronts. Ranjit Fernando has indicated to me that he was impressed by the calmness of the players in the dressing room at Gaddafi Stadium once they were safe and noted that the Team Manager Brendon Kuruppu was a model of efficiency in sorting out requirements for the treatment of the injured and the evacuation of the whole squad.
Incidental Sidelights: Overblown Patriotism
Quite incidentally some of the commentary after this traumatic event was marked by measures of overblown patriotism. I note two instances
- That displayed by Muralitharan (who was among those in the bus) was a tad overdone. He had this to say: “The security people we had didn’t even seem to fight back. Were they professionals with enough training? They didn’t seem to know what to do. I was surprised the terrorists were able to just reload the magazines and keep firing, and they never got caught. It was shameful. If this had happened in Colombo they would never have got away” — a viewpoint that can be viewed as “overdone” now in the light of the security lapses in Sri Lanka that enabled this year’s Easter Sunday 21/4 attacks to take place despite intelligence warnings from Indian sources.
- After Chris Broad criticised the Pakistani police for fleeing the scene and raised questions about how and why the Pakistani team was not ready to leave on time, Javed Miandad jumped in and castigated Broad: he wanted the ICC to ban Broad for life.
- … while the head of the Pakistani Cricket Board, Ijaz Butt, “accused Broad of lying.”
Khalil feted & rewarded in Sri Lanka in April 2009
AFP 2019 “10 years on, umpire Ahsan Raza recounts horror of Lahore terror attack,” 3 March 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/10-years-on-umpire-ahsan-raza-recounts-nightmare-of-lahore-terror-attack/article26423568.ece
AFP 2015 “Meyer Khalil: The Ordinary Bus driver who turned Sri Lanka’s ‘hero’,”22 May 2015, https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/meher-khalil-from-an-ordinary-bus-driver-to-sri-lankas-hero/
BBC 2019 “That Nightmare Moment: Farbrace and Bayliss give BBC A Detailed Account of the Lahore Assault, 3rd March 2009,” 3 March 2019, …. ……….. …… https://thuppahis.com/2019/10/06/that-nightmare-moment-farbrace-and-bayliss-give-bbc-a-detailed-account-of-the-lahore-assault-3rd-march-2009/
Gettleman, Jeffrey et al 2019“Security Failures and Security Implications from the Jihadist Terror in Sri Lanka, Easter Sunday 2019,” 23 April 2019 https://thuppahis.com/2019/04/23/security-failures-and-security-implications-from-the-jihadist-terror-in-sri-lanka-easter-sunday-2019/·
ESPNcricinfo 2009 “Sri Lanka honour ‘hero’ bus driver,” 6 April 2009, http://www.espncricinfo.com/srilanka/content/story/398558.html
Hopps, David 2009 “The Sri Lankan players’ reaction to their ordeal has shown how cricket can cope. No recriminations or regret – just reflection and a calming cup of tea,” 4 March 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2009/mar/04/sri-lanka-players-reaction-attack
Jayawardena, Susantha n.d. “Kumar Sangakkara on the Sri Lanka Cricket Team attack in Pakistan, You Tube Interview,” https://www.islandcricket.lk/videos/sri-lanka-cricket-team-attack-in-pakistan-kumar-sangakkara/
Roberts, Michael 2011 “Cricket under Siege: The Lahore Attack, 3 March 2009,” in Michael Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 39-63.
Sritama 2019 “Chris Broad looks back at the Lahore Terror attackthat took place ten years ago,” 6 March 2019, https://www.crictracker.com/chris-broad-looks-back-at-the-lahore-terror-attack-that-took-place-10-years-ago/
Wikipedia n. d. “2009 attack on the Sri Lanka national cricket team,” ….. …….. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_attack_on_the_Sri_Lanka_national_cricket_team
 See Hopps in The Guardian, 4 March 2009.
 Shamsi to Roberts, email note, 4 March 2009 (note that I met Shamsie at the Galle Literary Festival in January 2009 when on the same platform).
 Quoted in Roberts, “Cricket under Siege,” 2010, p.158.
 See Roberts, “Cricket under Siege,” in Roberts, Incursions & Excursions, 2010. pp.. 158-59.
 See Sritama 2019.
 “Two bullets pierced his lungs and liver, and after emerging from a coma, it was nearly six months before Raza could walk again” — AFP 2019.
 See ESPNcricinfo 2009 and AFP 2015. Note that “Khalil was feted after his brave action and received a reward of 21.000$ from the Sri Lankan government and these monies plus donations from well-wishers enable him to start a bus company.
 Thamel is noticeably short in height.
 Email Note from Ranjt Fernando, late December 2010. Fernando was in Lahore as a TV commentator.
 See Gettleman et al 2019 as one among a host of possible sources.
 Quoted in Wikipedia account: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_attack_on_the_Sri_Lanka_national_cricket_team
 Also referred to in Wikipedia item on this topic.