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'We have all had to grow up'

The cricketing victims of the Lahore attack take their first steps to returning to the game and life as usual

Alex Brown

April 15, 2009

Comments: 2 | Text size: A | A

A combination of pictures of members of the Sri Lankan team, Lahore, March 3, 2009
No longer above being terror targets © AFP
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Ahsan Raza remembers laughing. "On the way to the ground, Chris Broad joked with me that there was no way the policeman outside the bus could resist a terrorist," Raza said. "He was carrying his rifle like a bat."

It was the last time the Pakistani umpire's lungs were at full capacity. Within moments of his exchange with Broad, two bullets had passed through the Raza's body. Surgeons required 20 pints of blood to stabilise his blood pressure while operating on his ruptured liver and damaged lung. The father of three remains under regular medical supervision.

A month has passed since the terror attack outside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, and the effects are still being acutely felt. For Raza, the fourth umpire for the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Test, the simple act of talking serves as a reminder of the moment his bus came under terrorist gunfire. His lungs ache.

"I don't have words to describe what happened," he said. "It has left horrified feelings in my memory. But it will not stop me. I would love to umpire again. Definitely I will join the Elite panel. I was motivated before the attack and I am now more motivated after this. I recently received an email from Daryl Harper, who said one day we would again be umpiring together on the ground. I would like that."

Raza and Thilan Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan batsman, were the most severely injured of the cricketing victims of the Lahore attacks. Samaraweera remained in hospital for a fortnight after surgery to his left leg, and is now undergoing painful sessions of physiotherapy to repair muscles damaged by a terrorist's bullet. His captain Mahela Jayawardene is under no illusions as to the enormity of the challenge before his young batsman, who prior to the attack had posted double-centuries in consecutive Tests.

"There is still pain for him, but hopefully in six-to-eight weeks he will be back training again," Jayawardene said. "The wounds, I have been told, have healed better than was anticipated. He is a very tough character. It is obviously a difficult road for him after the terrible thing that happened to him. But knowing him like I do, I am confident he will make a full comeback."

Jayawardene might not bear physical scars from the attack, but his experiences since returning from Pakistan have been harrowing all the same. Along with his team-mates, he has undergone group counselling sessions, and as leader has watched as his players have struggled to come to terms with the events of March 3.

"The guys have been through quite a bit of trauma, and everyone responds to that in their own way," he said. "Quite a few of the guys in the team are youngsters, and the way they have pulled through everything that has happened has shown a lot of maturity. But it is different person to person. One of the good things is that we have been able to spend a lot of time with our families, and I think that has helped. In Sri Lanka, family is a very important and close-knit aspect to our culture. There has been a lot of talking.

"One thing which we have not yet done is sit together as a team in a bus again. That will be a big moment for all of us. But to my mind there is no safe place anymore. What we do is try to play cricket wherever it is possible, but with the attitude of these people, bad things can now happen anywhere in the world."

Kumar Sangakkara concurs. Having replayed the events of Lahore in his mind countless times, Sri Lanka's captain-elect feels cricketing administrators must be more vigilant in their attitudes towards security in future.

"You think about it all the time - 'What if, what if, what if?' - but even though the horror of it is running through your mind, you are very thankful to be in one piece and able to enjoy time with your family again," Sangakkara said. "Life and time do not wait. You have to try and find your way to a normal life again, and all the guys are looking forward to that.

"We have all had to grow up a bit more and not be so naive to think that sportsmen are somehow immune from the troubles of the world. The Munich Olympics were probably the last time a sports team has been targeted like this. We lived in a bubble thinking we were untouchable. That has gone now. The sense of security has disappeared. These threats are real, and not just confined to one section of society."


Ahsan Raza, the fourth umpire who was injured during the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus, Lahore, March 18, 2009
Ahsan Raza is now even more determined to join the Elite panel of umpires © Associated Press
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The resilience demonstrated by the Sri Lankans has been nothing short of astonishing. Within three weeks of coming under terrorist fire, the nation's cricketers - with the exception of the hospitalised Samaraweera - returned to the field for an inter-provincial Twenty20 competition. Among them was Ajantha Mendis, the 24-year-old spinner, who spent more than a week under medical supervision after being struck in the chest and back by shrapnel. Though the wounds have yet to heal, Mendis has nonetheless been in action domestically for Wayamba, and will be in the coming weeks for the Kolkata Knight Riders.

"I never really had that kind of military training," said Mendis, who plays for the Army in Sri Lanka's first-class cricket competition. "Even though my rank is 'gunner', I have never taken part in war. I was really shaken. I knew I had had a brush with death. Physically there was pain, but the shock of what happened was the big thing.

"It has been a very difficult time. There has been a lot of pain. But it is nice to be back on the field again and I am looking forward to soon joining my franchise in South Africa."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo. This article was first published in the May 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here

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Posted by jamesb on (April 15, 2009, 20:35 GMT)

Good luck to the Sri Lankan boys, it will be great to see them back in action after their terrible experience. They are great entertainers and brave guys.

Posted by tammimi2010 on (April 15, 2009, 19:05 GMT)

I hope that both Mr. Raza and Samraweera recover from their mental and physical injuries. It was a rough time but it is heartening to see that Ahsan Raza is all the more determined to continue umpiring. I hope cricket is never hit by terrorism ever again!

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