Dhaka, Mar 22 (UNB) — As New Zealand reeled from the worst act of terrorism ever perpetrated on its soil, the world media’s concern was noticeably drawn also towards Bangladesh. The BBC for example, repeatedly called on its correspondent in the Bangladesh capital for updates throughout the day of the attack, that took place over 11,000 kilometres away in Christchurch.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada even called his counterpart Sheikh Hasina in the aftermath of the hate-driven incident that left 50 people dead, almost all shot with semi- automatic weapons, many at close range, while in the act of offering their Jumma prayers at two mosques serving the small but growing Muslim community in New Zealand’s third city.
The reason was that news had spread very quickly, in fact while the attack was still being treated as an ‘unfolding situation’ by NZ police, that the Bangladesh cricket team had been on the scene, i.e. the Al Nur Mosque in Dean’s Avenue, when the Australian-born terrorist started his killing spree. In the vicinity anyway. Seeking out a local mosque to say their Jumma prayers on Fridays while on tour is regulation for the Tigers. On this day too, March 15th, all but two of the squad members had boarded the bus to the mosque, even though they were running slightly late thanks to a team-talk that lingered on a bit.
Fortunately a female motorist near the mosque’s entrance managed to wave them off from entering, and the players grasped enough to turn around first and ask questions later. A video soon appeared on social media platforms as well as Cricinfo, purporting to show some members of the team including Tamim Iqbal, Mehedy Miraz and Mushfiqur Rahim, all visibly shaken and disturbed, making their way on foot through Hagley Park.
The park adjoins the mosque at one end and the Hagley Oval on the other, where the cricketers had been practising earlier and which was also the venue set for the last of a 3-Test series between Bangladesh and New Zealand, scheduled to start the next day.
That wasn’t to be of course. Within hours of the attack, the third Test was called off by mutual consent between the two boards and Bangladesh’s tour cut short in favour of flying home as early as possible. Returning from New Zealand, often called “the edge of the world”, still took the best part of another 36 hours.
Arriving back at Dhaka’s international airport on a late flight last Saturday, the players came off as jolted and distressed, not quite themselves. Mahmudullah Riyad, who had been captaining the Test team in the absence of the injured Shakib al Hasan, simply said: “We have never seen anything like it before.”
Understandably, the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) told them to take as many days off as necessary to recover from what could have been a traumatic experience. Some voices though have not relinquished the opportunity to point to the walloping they suffered at the hands of the hosts in every game that was played across all three formats till the abrupt ending, as the likelier source of any lasting trauma.
It’s good for the team that Nazmul Hassan Papon, the extremely hands-on BCB president, has been decidedly more sympathetic towards their situation, announcing: “They are mentally broken. We want them to take rest as many days as they want. I don’t think they should get busy on cricket right now. They went through a horrible situation.”
The cricket supremo has since also floated the necessity of hiring a team psychologist ahead of the 50-overs World Cup, that kicks off in England in June. Senior player Tamim Iqbal has endorsed the idea, saying some of the players may be in need of counseling by professionals to put the horrific scenes they witnessed from their bus, at a distance of just 50 yards from the mosque under attack.
"Had we arrived 3-4 minutes earlier, we would have been inside the mosque. A massive disaster could have occurred. We watched the whole thing from the bus, like a movie, people bleeding as they came out of the mosque,” said Khaled Mashud Pilot, the ex-national team player, in fact captain, who was the team manager during the tour of NZ.
“Later we realised that the shooter could inflict more damage if they found us inside the bus all at once, so we took a collective decision to leave the bus through the back gate," Pilot said. They then walked back through Hagley Park.
Most of the players took the BCB up on its offer to get away from the game. Two of the younger members of the squad - all-rounder Mehedy Miraz and Mustafizur ‘Fizz’ Rahman - decided to tie the knot. Some of the players however chose to deal with the situation by slotting straight back into cricket, making themselves available for the ongoing Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League. Those who did found it helpful to take their minds off the horrific situation that had unfolded at such close proximity. Although to be clear, at no point were the players themselves
in the line of fire or under attack in any way.
Yet questions have also been raised over the lack of an advance security team accompanying the squad, that could stake out locations they planned to visit and vet them for security beforehand. This has not been lost upon the BCB president, who at a press briefing following the terrorist attack revealed they had already requested the New Zealand Cricket Board to look into why there were no security personnel with the group going for the Jumma prayer.
Papon has since pledged to demand assurances on security from foreign cricket boards when they invite the Bangladesh team in future to tour their countries, similar to what they themselves demand at times before setting foot here.
“Those who provide us (required security), we will go and play. Otherwise, it’s not possible for us to go there and play,” he said. The message from the BCB is a simple one: better safe than sorry.