In a previous study of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket entourage at Lahore in 2009 I was guided by several news reports and chats with a few players in marking the resolution and actions of the bus driver Mohammed Khalil, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chris Broad during the initial ordeal and the resolute work of Lal Thamel in aiding the injured at the stadium and in hospital. Our thanks now to Rex for revealing Mahela’s firm leadership when moves were afoot to keep the two injured players Paranavithana and Samaraweera back in the air force hospital. Those who play together stick together….Michael Roberts
Rex Clementine, in The Island. 27 June 2020, where the title runs thus: “Paranavithana and Warnapura recall Lahore attack”
The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore more than a decade ago changed the face of the sport and pushed Pakistan into cricketing isolation. Pakistan is one of Sri Lanka’s friendliest nations and the PCB – Pakistan Cricket Board – is SLC’s – Sri Lanka Cricket, strongest ally. The PCB has done some remarkable work over the years to resume cricket in the country. Tharanga Paranavithana and Malinda Warnapura in a recent live chat with The Papare.com recalled the memories of horrific scenes that day in the team bus.
Several Sri Lankan players and support staff were injured in the shootout. Thanks to the valiant efforts of Pakistan’s security forces their lives were saved but 12 security officials were killed in the shootout.
“It was my first tour and I had made my Test debut in the first game in Karachi. I was out for a golden duck on debut and then in the second innings I was run out. Then here we go to Lahore for the second game and I am under some sort of pressure to score runs. Third day we were heading for the game cracking some jokes and suddenly there was a noise. I looked out of the window and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Two guys were on the floor and shooting at the bus. One guy was running around and firing at us,” recalled Paranavithana.
“Suddenly someone in the bus shouted ‘go down’ ‘go down’. There was nowhere for me to go down as already a few guys were down. I looked back and Kumar (Sangakkara) shouted my shoulder is gone. Tilan (Samaraweera) then got hit. Some shrapnel hit my head then,” Paranavithana went onto say.
“Gaddafi Stadium is superb venue and historic place too. But it has a small entry point. So the driver of the bus has to reverse a few times before getting the bus in. the previous day we were actually joking that these guys had built such a fine ground but still couldn’t fix a proper gate. That day in one attempt the driver took the bus in. I have no idea how he managed to do it. Some luck maybe.”
Warnapura, the nephew of first Test captain Bandula, was the senior player of the two openers having made his debut a couple of seasons back.
“When you are on a tour, this is the last thing that you expect. It was a bitter experience. Now we can laugh but at that point, we had no clue as to what to do. We opened our eyes only after the bus came to a halt. After we got into the dressing room, we watched television to realize how dangerous it was. We were like sitting ducks. Hats off to security forces of Pakistan who sacrificed their lives in protecting us. Throughout the series they were with us and our thoughts and prayers are with them always,” Warnapura explained.
“We had to take Tilan and Para for medical treatment but we didn’t want to get onto the road again. Then we were airlifted to an Air Force base. The dressing room was like an operation theatre treating all the players who were injured. Some players wanted to go back to hotel. Some didn’t want to. The management handled things well. We were at an Air Force camp until a special flight came over to take us home. Even a few years after the incident, if we were driving and if we heard the noise of a siren, players used to stop their vehicles and wait for some time. It was such a nasty experience.”
While the players were waiting at the Air Force base until they were flown back home, Samaraweera and Paranavithana were taken to a hospital as their injuries were serious.
“Tilan was unconscious. The bullet that hit me on the chest had pierced a bone so that wasn’t too bad. There were other patients around us but they were motionless. There were about ten of them. Later I realized that they were dead bodies. Lal Thamel, one of our support staff then took us to the operation theatre. Doctors wanted the two of us to stay in Lahore and let the rest of the team go back home as it wasn’t safe for the two of us to fly. But Mahela as captain, you know he is someone who takes great decisions, he insisted that he wasn’t flying back home without the two of us,” Paranavithana concluded.
Michael Roberts: “Cricket under Siege,” in Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lanka Cricket (Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011). Also presented as “Lahore, 3 March 2009: When Terror Hit World Cricket,” 30 October 2017 , in https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/lahore-3-march-2009-when-terror-hit-world-cricket/