When one talks about terrorist attacks and sports, the mind immediately recalls to the 1972 Munich Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by a Palestinian terrorist group Black September. In cricket, there has been few instances where teams have had a narrow escape. New Zealand’s cricket team survived a massive car bomb attack in Sri Lanka in 1987 when they took a different route which saved them. In 1992, a motorcycle bomb exploded right outside the New Zealand team hotel when they had returned to Sri Lanka. For Pakistan, their situation worsened with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks which resulted in the US offensive in neighbouring Afghanistan. Foreign teams were hesitant to tour the country out of security fears. In 2002, New Zealand’s series was cancelled when a suicide bomb attack outside their hotel in Karachi killed French engineers.
Australia, the world champions, refused to tour the country while England and South Africa played under massive security. India toured Pakistan in 2004 and 2006 but their tours ended following the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 which killed 160 people. In Pakistan, the terrorism situation had worsened following the siege of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad which resulted in the Islamic fundamentalist militants being crushed. Foreign teams did not tour Pakistan over security fears since 2007. When Sri Lanka arrived in the country in 2009 for a series, it seemed that cricket would not be affected by terrorism. Not many imagined that the sequence of events would prove to be everyone’s worst nightmare.
Terror hits cricket
The first Test in Karachi ended in a high-scoring draw. Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera smashed 240 and 231 respectively as Sri Lanka ended on 644/7 declared. However, Younis Khan responded with a brilliant 313 and Kamran Akmal blasted 158 as Pakistan ended on 765/6 declared. In the second Test in Lahore, Kumar Sangakkara hit 104 while Tillakaratne Dilshan smashed 145 but it was Samaraweera who stole the show with a brilliant 214. Sri Lanka ended on 606 all out with Umar Gul taking 6/135. By the end of day 2, Pakistan had reached 110/1 with Khurram Manzoor unbeaten on 59.
On day 3, when the Sri Lankan team were heading to the Gaddafi stadium for resumption, disaster struck. When the bus came to Liberty square near the stadium, 12 gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan team bus. The policemen who were escorting the bus returned fire and in the ensuing gun-battle, six policemen and two civilians were killed.
The gunmen first shot at the wheels of the bus, and then fired at the bus itself and its occupants. The attackers had fired a rocket at the bus, which missed. The driver of the bus, Mehar Mohammad Khalil, kept on driving a distance of about 500 metres until they reached the stadium. Khalil was hailed as a hero for his bravery. The attackers had also thrown a grenade under the bus, which exploded after the bus had passed over it.
A minivan following the team bus carrying the match referee and umpires was also fired upon and the driver was killed. Simon Taufel, Steve Davis, Nadeem Ghauri, Ahsan Raza, umpires performance manager Peter Manuel, liaison officer Abdul Sami and ICC match referee Chris Broad were in the minivan. Broad threw himself over and kept his hand on the chest of Ahsan Raza to slow down the profuse bleeding from a bullet injury. Samaraweera, Sangakkara, Tharanga Paranavitana, Ajantha Mendis, Chaminda Vaas, Suranga Lakmal and Jayawardene all sustained injuries. Sangakkara, in his Spirit of Cricket address in London in 2011, summed up how their countrymen were feeling for 30 years when Sri Lanka was suffering attacks by the LTTE terrorists on a regular basis.
The attack was carried out by the terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangi. In August 2016, three terrorists involved in the attack were killed in a police raid in Lahore. In October the same year, the attack's mastermind, Qari Ajmal who was also linked to Hakimullah Mehsood of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, was killed in eastern Afghanistan during a military operation.
Massive blow for Pakistan
The tour was cancelled and the repercussions stunned Pakistan. The country lost their right to co-host the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 along with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Foreign teams flatly refused to play in the country and Pakistan was forced to play their games outside, making the UAE their ‘home’ away from home.
International cricket has returned to Pakistan when Zimbabwe agreed to come for three ODIs in 2015. This has been followed by tours from West Indies, the ICC World XI and notably, Sri Lanka in 2017. The Pakistan Super League also conducted games in Pakistan but there are many notable international teams who still refuse to come to Pakistan. It is safe to say, March 3, 2009 was the day terrorism killed cricket in Pakistan.