Our bus driver was the real hero: Kumar Sangakkara on 2009 team bus attack
London: Kumar Sangakkara was captain of the Sri Lankan team that was attacked on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore during a Test match against Pakistan in 2009. Recalling the incident, Sangakkara said that it was their team bus driver who was the hero as he managed to drive the team away from the area.
“At the time, when going to Pakistan, security was an issue. We had written about our concerns on security, and were exploring insurance for players if something happened. So, we were refused politely, and we were told that they have done all the groundwork to ensure security, so we went,” Sangakkara tod Sky Sports.
“We were having our usual banters on the bus, people talking about what you are going to do this evening. One of our fast bowlers said ‘wickets are so flat here, I am going to get a stress fracture or something. I hope a bomb goes off, so we could go home’. And 20 seconds later, this happens,” Sangakkara revealed.
“Our team’s masseur at the time was in the front, we heard the gun shots, we thought they were firecrackers. He got up, and said ‘get down, they are shooting the bus’. (Tillakaratne) Dilshan was also in front, I was more central. Mahela (Jayawardene) was right at the back, Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) was sitting right behind me so that he can annoy Thilan Samaraweera. I remember Tharanga Paranavitana, the opener, was in front.
“All hell broke loose, we hid at the aisle of the bus, on top of each other, and then the shooting started. They shot the bus as many times they could, and threw grenades, and fired a rocket launcher. And for some reason, I don’t know why, we survived.
“Thilan was injured, I got hit on the shoulder with a lot of shrapnel. Ajantha Mendis was injured. Tharanga Paranavitana gets up bleeding from his chest and collapses saying he’s been shot. We hear ‘oohs and aahs’ from all around the bus. Paul Farbrace has an iron spike through his hand, so we get into the ground, which is 500m from there, very rudimentary security of course. Unfortunately, most of the security personnel guarding us, died and that was tragic.
“They tried to shoot the bus driver, missed him by a couple of inches. He was the hero, we survived probably because he was left alive to drive us through that. Everyday he used to take four attempts to get through the narrow gate, but this time, he drove in straight into the ground. We get off. Tharanga Paranavitana, we thought had died for some reason, feels his back, and says, I dont have a hole in my back, so I think I am okay and walks off the park. Thilan is bleeding everywhere, he’s been shot very badly. He gets taken by ambulance to hospital. Ajantha Mendis and I were due to get in the next ambulance, but then they were shooting next to ambulance, so we decided we would stay here,” he further recalled.
The incident led to international teams choosing not to travel to Pakistan for the better part of the next decade. Interestingly, it was Sri Lanka who toured Pakistan for a Test series for the first time since the attack and Sangakkara recently urged England and Australia to take a lead in getting international cricket back to Pakistan.