Bangladesh cricketers made desperate phone calls pleading for help as they came within moments of becoming involved in the Christchurch terrorist attack.
The Bangladesh team were sitting in their bus outside the Al Noor mosque, a short walk from the Hagley Oval Cricket Ground, when a gunman opened fire and killed 49 people.
The players hid on the team bus before escaping by running across Hagley Park to the safety of the cricket ground. As the attack happened, Tamim Iqbal, the Bangladesh opening batsman, made two calls to ESPN Cricinfo journalist Mohammad Isam, who was close by, asking him to phone the police.
“There’s shooting here, please help us,” he said to Isam. Iqbal later tweeted “entire team got saved from active shooters.”
The distressed players witnessed casualties being treated by emergency services and reported seeing dead bodies as they made their escape. The third Test match, due to start on Saturday, at the Hagley Oval, which is a short walk from the mosque, has been cancelled and the tour ended early. The Bangladesh team will leave Christchurch on Saturday.
Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers #christchurchMosqueAttack
— Tamim Iqbal Khan (@TamimOfficial28) March 15, 2019
Khaled Mashud, the team manager, said the squad “were about 50 yards from the mosque” when the attack occurred. In a hastily arranged press conference in the team room at the hotel where the players are staying in the centre of Christchurch he gave a chilling account of how fortunate they were to escape unharmed.
“We are very lucky because we had a number of us, about 17 of us, in the bus. We were all heading to the mosque for prayers. Had we reached even three or four minutes earlier, we probably would have been inside the mosque. This could then have been a massive incident. We are very thankful that we weren't caught in the crossfire, but what we saw was straight out of a movie scene. We could see bloodstained people staggering out of the mosque. Maybe for about eight-ten minutes, we were all inside the bus and were sitting with our heads bowed, just in case someone fires at us.
“When we realised that the shooters could have inflicted more damage if they had found us inside the bus all at once, we took a collective decision to escape through the back gate. We ran or quickly walked out through that gate. Then we were in the dressing room, and the local liaison people explained to us how we could get out of there most safely to our hotel. Our decision to get out was timely, because in videos we saw that people came out and kept shooting later.”
The team’s support staff, including English head coach Steve Rhodes, were at the team hotel and due to the meet the players at the ground after they had attended the mosque.
“When you see something like a terror attack in front of you, and you see blood spilled in front of you, this will affect any human being," Mashud said. "It wouldn't have occurred to us then that we would be safe later. Some of the boys inside the bus were crying as well, because they were all worried about how to get out of there.
“Ultimately, everybody ends up talking about what they saw, but we are lucky that if the players had either gotten off the bus later or gone to the mosque earlier, it would have been difficult to get out of there. When we were able to get out of there, it was because of the collective effort of the players. I would thank the players for caring for themselves so well.”
Security at this summer’s World Cup is already the no 1 priority for the International Cricket Council which is constantly reviewing its procedures and liaising with the Home Office and police forces. This incident was not aimed at a sporting event and cricketers could unwittingly become caught up in an act anywhere in the world but one potential change in the future could be teams having to travel with full time security officers.
The England and Australia teams are always accompanied by security, and while they cannot prevent attacks, they are trained to know how to react in such situations. As Mashud has pointed out, the players were left to make their own decisions and it cannot be long before all teams have dedicated security officers.
The incident in Christchurch comes just a week after the tenth anniversary of the terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, since when hardly any international cricket has been played in Pakistan.