Umpire Caught in the 2009 Sri Lanka Bus Attack Recalls Tragic Day
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Former ICC Umpire Simon Taufel was one of the umpires caught in the crossfire during the Sri Lankan Team Bus attack in 2009. The incident affected him more mentally than physically.
According to him, the morning had started normally, just like the previous two days of the Test match. But he did find something unusual about that day.
“The only thing that really was different, as we left for the ground, was the fact that both the teams weren’t in the same convoy. The Pakistan team bus wasn’t ready, so the decision was made by others in our security convoy to leave without them and they would follow.”Simon Taufel, Former Cricket Umpire
Once we reached halfway to the stadium, the terrorists started firing on the buses. They opened fire on the buses, breaking all the windows. Simon said that initially the bullets sounded like firecrackers.
“Nadeem Ghauri was the one who yelled out, ‘Everybody get down, get down as low as you can’ and so, we did. Not initially... we thought this was strange but when he repeated the request, we got down. And then things just started to ding into our vehicle and the windows started to explode,” Simon said.
“Obviously, when you are down on the ground, in a foetal position, in a minibus and things like that are happening, you are not going to stick your head up and try to see what's going on. So, it was very much a weird experience. I had never been in such a situation before, obviously, and I hope that we are never in that position again,” he added.
The driver of the bus was shot and killed at the roundabout. A policemen then drove their bus to the stadium. The journey from the roundabout to stadium was not easy, shares Simon.
“And I remember him driving at a really high speed. We actually reached another checkpoint just before we got to the stadium and, at that point, I could see that... I could feel that he wasn't going to stop,” said Simon.
“The biggest fear that I had at that point was that they (police at checkpoint) might think that we were the terrorists... that we were the bad guys and that they were actually going to further harm us. But obviously that didn't happen,” he added.
Simon also shared his worst memory of the incident, which he says is a lifelong regret for him. Upon reaching the stadium, he had to step over the body of his colleague Ahsan Raza, who was shot and was battling for his life.
“When we got to the stadium, we actually weren't allowed to go inside the ground or even inside the gate, like the Sri Lankan team bus, we had to stop outside,” he added.
"We were wearing white travel shirts going to the game at that stage and Raza’s shirt was just all red. I remember having to step over his body to get out of the vehicle and it’s a moment I regret till today, because in some ways, I was putting my safety and concern for my welfare ahead of his,” he said.
“I really regret that until this day... I should have said hang on, no I have got to help him out. But we were convinced at the time, when we were asked to exit the vehicle, that Ahsan will be taken care of,” he added.
After reaching the umpire’s changing room, Simon recalls going down to the Sri Lankan room to find out how they were doing. He believes that there was a sense of calmness in their dressing room because they were used to unrest.
“We got inside the umpire's changing room and I remember this feeling of... lots of feelings, of relief, frustration, excitement in some way, shock and horror,” Simon said.
“I then recall going down to the Sri Lankan room to find out how they were doing and again, it was a bit of a case of medical attention to some of their players. But my impression of how they responded was that they seemed to take it in their stride. There was a sense of calmness in their dressing room.”Simon Taufel
“I had a chat with Murali and a few other players and I suppose my take on that was that, obviously, growing up in their country, they are used to unrest and these sort of things happen from time to time, as unfortunate as it is,” he said.
“I suppose maybe there was a sense that they were used to it, but I am not sure how you ever get used to something like that. It was very important I thought to see how they were and to make sure we offered some support to them,” he added.
Finally, Simon narrated the final phase of the incident, which was their evacuation from the stadium. The officials were put in a couple of different vehicles while the Sri Lankan team was airlifted by helicopter.
“I reckon we would have been there for about an hour because it was the case of what to do next and obviously, this was new territory for a lot of people,” Simon said.
“And I remember my feelings going through the streets of Lahore. It was an eerie feeling... looking at shadows behind buildings and trees, and feeling very uncomfortable and afraid to go back to the hotel,” he added.
“And then, finally, to check out... to try and find my laundry, settle my bill, find my passport, answer a phone call from the Australian Consulate to make sure that we are ok,” he concluded.
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