'I thought my career was over' - Samaraweera
Thilan Samaraweera feared for his career after the Lahore attack but is now confident of making a comeback to international cricket. Cricket, he says, remains his first priority and he is even open to playing in Pakistan again.
Samaraweera, who had a bullet removed from his left leg, was discharged from a Colombo hospital on Tuesday - two weeks after the attack - and went to the Sri Lankan board office today for physiotherapy. Two of his injuries have healed but his leg is still heavily plastered as he is yet to recover from the most serious injury, that to his hamstring. He has not held a bat yet but is hopeful of resuming practice in April.
Has the attack changed his outlook on the game? "No, I don't think so," Samaraweera told Cricinfo in an extensive interview. "Cricket is my No. 1 priority and I have to get physically and mentally strong to represent my country again. I was out of the team for two years but I came back strongly and I will do so again after this incident.
"I have had two weeks to think about it. Today I decided not to think about the past and to try and be positive."
The recent past has been extremely difficult for Samaraweera. The four days immediately preceding the Lahore attack were particularly torturous. "They were terrible. I couldn't go to the toilet, I couldn't walk, I couldn't even sleep as I couldn't change my body position. Those four days really worried me a lot. But, after the second operation it got better and, at the moment, my leg movements are improving every day."
Apart from conventional treatment provided by surgeon Narenda Pinto, who removed the bullet in two-and-a-half hour operation and also cleaned the wound, Samaraweera also met up with the Sri Lankan President's personal physician, Dr Eliyantha White, a faith healer who has successfully treated Lasith Malinga and Sanath Jayasuriya in the recent past. "I had a couple of sessions with him; he blessed me and gave me herbs. Everything is working well for me now. I am really thankful for the care I received from surgeon Pinto, Jayanda Dharmadasa and Dr White.
Looking back at the incident, what strikes Samaraweera the most is how he and his team-mates didn't panic and how survival instincts took over. "That was the best thing. I was lying on the floor, in front of Sangakkara, when I got hit. I immediately put my head under the seat to protect it from getting hit. My leg was bleeding but survival instincts didn't allow me to panic. Once the bus stopped, I told [Chamara] Kapugedera, 'I can't walk; please take me to the dressing-room.'"
He was shifted immediately to hospital, where thoughts regarding his cricketing future terrified him. " I thought my career was over but a professor, who saw my X-rays and scans, came in and said, 'You are a lucky man. Don't worry, you will play again.' The bullet had gone through the muscle and not hit the bone or the knee."
Yet he was unaware of the gravity of the attacks until he reached the army base near Lahore, from where he was airlifted to Colombo. "There I saw [the footage] on news channels and it was terrible."
Samaraweera did not speak to his wife until six hours after the attack. "I didn't want to as I knew she would panic. I spoke to her brother and told him the injuries were not serious. When I finally did speak to my wife, she didn't believe that I was alright - the channels were saying I'd been hit in the head and chest. Only after she saw me at Colombo airport was she happy and relieved.
|Looking back at the incident, what strikes Samaraweera the most is how he and his team-mates didn't panic and how survival instincts took over|
"She is yet to fully recover from the shock, though. She is going to counselling sessions, arranged by the board, and is improving [Samaraweera himself will attend those sessions when fully fit]. The sessions have helped her a lot; they've also helped me in my rehabilitation back home. She is now moving on, dropping my kid to school and running the house."
Samaraweera has been spending time with his two daughters, aged eight and three. "The younger one doesn't know anything," he said with a laugh. "The elder one was worried about my leg and kept asking her mother whether I would be okay, whether I would be able to drop her at school soon! I am really happy with the emotional support that I have got from my family. My wife has never said not to play cricket in the future; she is just worried about my health."
He also cited his faith in Buddhism as another healing factor. "It clears your mind and calms you. None of us was seriously injured. Call it luck or whatever you will … My faith in religion has helped me recover."
So too did cricket and music. Lying in the hospital, Samaraweera spent his time watching cricket from round the world. "I watched Australia-South Africa, India-New Zealand and England-West Indies. I also watched football, the English Premier League."
His team-mates have also helped by trying to lighten the situation. "We all laughed in the hospital about how everyone reacted in the bus when the shooting happened. I said I never shouted there!" There's more humour when he says, referring to the emotional response of the public, "I never knew I was so popular!"
Samaraweera is confident that the worst is behind him and is waiting for the day he can hold the bat again and practice. "I can hopefully start practising in April. Hit the ball, field and run …I would like to play the series against Pakistan."
That series will be at home but Samaraweera has not ruled out the possibility of returning to Pakistan. "I can't say I won't be going there. It all depends on the situation then. The Pakistan public is cricket-crazy; it's just about security and safety. We never thought sportspersons could be attacked. This is the first time since 1972 [the Munich Olympics]. I am not a security expert and I really can't say anything about the level of security in Lahore. The world over, we need to improve security. This incident has been a real eye-opener."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo