Five extra minutes that saved 17 lives

After close call, Mahmudullah & Co. return home tonight

By Lokendra Pratap Sahi in Calcutta
  • Published 16.03.19, 4:30 AM
  • Updated 16.03.19, 4:30 AM
  • 2 mins read
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President of Bangladesh Cricket Board Nazmul Hassan Papon, centre, speaks during a press conference on the status of the country's cricket team after Friday's mass shootings in New Zealand, in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Friday, March 15, 2019. AP

An extended Media conference by Bangladesh’s cricket captain, Mahmudullah Riyad, probably saved the lives of 14 players and three members of the support staff, including analyst Shrinivas Chandrasekaran from India, in Christchurch on Friday afternoon.

As offering prayers at the Al Noor Mosque (around 1.6 km from the Hagley Oval, which was to host the series’ third and final Test, from Saturday), had been listed for the day, the Media conference was to have got over in just five minutes.

Mahmudullah, as it turns out, actually took questions for “10 minutes.” Those extra five minutes, perhaps, saved him and 16 others.

“The players and support staff are thanking us journalists for delaying their departure for the Mosque. Otherwise, no one knows what may have happened,” Mohammad Isam, Bangladesh correspondent of ESPNcricinfo, said from blood-soaked Christchurch.

All 14 players who’d come to the Oval for the Test-eve practice session, plus the three from the support staff boarded the team bus shortly after 1.30 pm, which was their scheduled time for prayers.

The journalists from Bangladesh remained at the Oval but, within minutes, one of them got a “terribly distressing call” from veteran opener Tamim Iqbal.

Indeed, a desperate-sounding Iqbal sought help: “Aamra bipode... Bipode.”

According to information made available to The Telegraph (from Christchurch and Dhaka), the team bus’s driver had been “alerted” by a lady who was either passing by the Mosque, which had become the principal target of a “fascist and racist” shooter advocating White supremacy, or had herself been on the premises.

Not sure of what was happening, the driver stopped less than 100 metres from the Mosque, by which time multiple shots were heard.

It couldn’t be confirmed, but there were bodies outside the Mosque. What’s confirmed is that many drenched in blood were seen on Deans Avenue, trying to escape the mayhem.

As with the Sri Lanka players in Lahore exactly a decade ago, the Mahmudullahs ducked till possibly a lull in the shooting brought the realisation that they could end up as sitting ducks in the team bus.

Apparently, the Bangladesh players emerged from the team bus and started “running” towards the Hagley Park which is adjacent to the Oval. They felt somewhat reassured there.

By then, the area was swarming with security personnel and the Oval too was placed under lockdown. It was, after all, a “developing situation and an ongoing operation.”

After about 45 minutes, the Bangladesh squad was escorted back to their hotel, where manager Khaled Mashud ‘Pilot’, a former captain, held a Media briefing.

One understands that some in the Bangladesh squad broke down, overwhelmed by the happenings and having themselves been lucky with a capital L.

The Bangladesh journalists had to stay back at the Oval for much longer, as the security personnel had barred any movement.

Late at night, this Reporter learnt that Mahmudullah and the rest of the players would fly out of Christchurch on Saturday morning and reach Dhaka at around 10.45 pm (local time).

“We’d initially been looking at the players and the support staff returning in two batches, but we’ve managed seats for all, obviously not in the Business Class...

“While the players will be on the flight out of Christchurch, I’m not sure about all members of the support staff, as some are foreigners,” Ahmed Sajjadul Alam ‘Bobby’, a director of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, informed.

Assuming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in Dhaka, it’s possible that she’ll be at the airport when the Singapore Airlines flight touches down.

According to Alam, the tri-series in Ireland ahead of the May 30-July 14 World Cup “is on track at this point in time.”

Bangladesh, by the way, have had an otherwise uneventful tour: Lost the three-match ODI series 0-3 and got defeated in the first two Tests.

As for Christchurch, it has never had a more quieter (“deathly silence,” to quote one of the sources) start to any weekend in its 162-year-history of formal existence.

Postscript: India’s cricketers were only recently in New Zealand, but didn’t play in Christchurch.