“If we had arrived there even five minutes earlier, we would all be killed.”
Almost every Bangladesh player who had been on the fateful bus to the Christchurch mosque had these words on their lips, from the moment they got out on Deans Avenue to escape from the scene of the shooting, and then back at the team hotel later that evening.
The seventeen Bangladesh cricketers had been planning to perform their Friday prayers and then return to training at the Hagley Oval when all hell broke loose. The wild swing from their calm surroundings at Hagley Park to a near-death experience was too much to take for all the players.
Some cried, and were inconsolable. One player said that he saw a dead body lying on the street.
“He was just in front of me. How can people be this cruel?” he said.
In the 20 minutes it took for them to walk, as briskly but calmly as possible, from the location of the mosque to the Hagley Oval, many of them had tears in their eyes. You couldn’t tell them to be calm. It was unfair on them.
Hours afterwards, back at the team hotel in central Christchurch, everyone was still shaken to their core. The TV was constantly showing live coverage of the attack, and with the death toll rising and new details emerging, the Bangladesh team room and the surrounding areas, normally bustling with activities, became sombre.
Tamim Iqbal, the player who had phoned this reporter when it first became apparent what was unfolding, tried to lighten the mood.
“What were you telling me on the phone?” he said. “I was telling you from a bus, while being near such an attack, and you thought I was pranking you? Come on!”
Soumya Sarkar tried to pull the leg of his manager, Khaled Mashud, by asking him what he had been thinking while sitting in the front of the bus. Mashud, always ready with his wit, had said that he was trying to decide whether he should video it, or see it with his own eyes.
But the jokes died quickly. The topic changed back to what had happened earlier in the day, and how incredibly close they had come to the shooter in the mosque. The players ate in silence mostly, none of them really talking a lot.
Md Sohel, the team masseuse, had been sitting on the right side of the bus, and saw almost everything unfold in those 20 minutes, including the sight of two passers-by trying to stop the bus from proceeding any further.
“When the first lady stopped us, we all thought she didn’t know what she was doing. When the second lady stopped us, we knew something had happened because apparently her car was shot at. That’s when we were panicking,” he said.
Mashud, the manager, recalled how he had been sitting in the front of the bus, trying to make sense of what was going on. A usually bubbly character, he looked at his grimmest when he was heading back to Hagley Oval. Later though, he was back to joking around, making sure the mood wasn’t too bad around the team.
By late evening, with confirmation that the tour had been cancelled in the wake of the attack, the focus had shifted to the team’s flight back home, and the players were anxious to know about it.
There were calls from all over the world on Tamim’s phone. He was talking to his son and wife, but after that, he also didn’t want to go to his room alone, so he was planning to be with Mahmudullah for a while. It wasn’t a night to be alone.