Pakistan's status as an international sporting venue has come under doubt after masked terrorists attacked the team bus carrying Sri Lanka's cricketers to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on Tuesday morning. Five cricketers, including Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, and Kumar Sangakkara, his deputy, received minor injuries. Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paravitarana were also injured in the attack which killed six security men and two civilians.
The Lahore Test was quickly called off and the tour cancelled, with the Sri Lankan players evacuated from the Gaddafi stadium and taken to a nearby airbase. The squad, including Samaraweera and Paranavitana, whose injuries were more serious, flew out in a chartered plane around 10pm Tuesday and landed in Colombo early on Wednesday. Samaraweera and Paranavithana went by ambulance to a private hospital in the city, a senior official said.
There have been terror strikes on the sidelines of cricket, but this is the first time players have been directly targeted. The attack is the first major strike against an international sporting team since Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
In its first official reaction, the PCB said the attack was "beyond the control of the management". Opposition MPs said in the Pakistan government officials received specific warnings from local police that terrorists were aiming to ambush the Sri Lankan squad.
The paper reported a letter dated January 22 that said an attack was planned on the team, either at their hotel or between the hotel and the sports stadium. However, a change of government in the Punjab province meant a meeting about the threat was not followed up.
"Intelligence reports said there might be an attack on the cricket team," Pervez Rashid, a senior member of the sacked Punjab government, said. "They made no appropriate security arrangements."
The PCB's statement is unlikely to cut much ice with other cricket bodies. David Morgan, the president of the ICC, described Pakistan as "a very dangerous place" at present. Speaking about the World Cup, he said: "Things will have to change dramatically in Pakistan in my opinion if any of the games are to be staged there. I think that international cricket in Pakistan is out of the question until there is a very significant change, a regime change I guess."
The Sri Lanka cricketers were on their way to the Gaddafi stadium when their bus was attacked by 12 armed terrorists near Liberty market, Habibur Rehman, chief commissioner of police, said. A grenade was also thrown at the bus but it missed.
"The bus came under attack as we were driving to the stadium, the gunmen targeted the wheels of the bus first and then the bus," Mahela Jayawardene said. "We all dived to the floor to take cover. About five players have been injured and also Paul Farbrace [a member of the support staff]…"
Describing the injuries, Sangakkara said: "Thilan [Samaraweera] has a shrapnel wound in his leg, but he is fine. [Tharanga] Paranavitana had shrapnel in his chest, but thank God it wasn't very deep and just on the surface.
"I had shrapnel injuries in my shoulder, but they have all been removed and I'm okay now. Ajantha [Mendis] had shrapnel in his neck and scalp, but he too has had medical attention and is fine. Everyone else is perfectly all right."
The reserve umpire Ahsan Raza was also injured in the attack. Nadeem Ghauri, the TV umpire, who was travelling in a bus behind the Sri Lanka team coach said the firing continued for some time. Umpire Steve Davis, who was on the team bus, called the terrorist attack "terrible". "I'm lost for words," he said.
Speaking on Geo TV, Inzamam-ul-Haq, the former Pakistan captain, said: "This is the first time that a cricket team has been seriously targeted... Pakistan's image will be hit and only time will tell how much damage has been done to Pakistan cricket. The World Cup too might be affected... no country would want to come now to Pakistan... I am worried where Pakistan will get a chance to play, not only in Pakistan but outside as well. This is all so sad."
In Napier, the New Zealand and Indian teams donned black arm bands midway through their one-day cricket match as a mark of respect for the Sri Lankan cricketers.
The Indian cricket board, which had called off a scheduled tour of Pakistan last December, expressed its sorrow over the attack. "We pray for the speedy recovery of the injured cricketers, and sympathise with their families and compatriots," BCCI Secretary N Srinivasan said in New Delhi.
Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan coach, said his team escaped the attack because "the Sri Lankan team left [the hotel] five minutes before us".