Two Sri Lankan cricketers, Dasun Shanaka and Hasitha Boyagoda, were among the many who narrowly survived the serial blasts that rocked the island on Easter Sunday morning, leaving almost 300 dead and more than 500 injured.
It might have unravelled very differently for Shanaka, the 27-year-old international allrounder, had he attended Sunday morning mass at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, his hometown, that day with his mother and grandmother. He chose not to, being tired after a 170-kilometre trip home from Anuradhapura the previous evening.
“Normally I would have gone to church but the day before I had gone to Anuradhapura, so I was tired,” Shanaka recounted to ESPNcricinfo, his voice cracking. “That morning, when I was at my house, I heard a sound, and then people were saying a bomb had gone off at the church. I rushed there, and I’ll never forget the scene.
“The entire church was destroyed, absolutely shattered, and people were dragging lifeless bodies outside.”
“If you saw the scene, you would know there was no way anyone inside could have survived, because simply the debris from the blast had injured everyone even in the vicinity”
He first looked for, and found, his mother, and took her to hospital, while his friends stayed behind to help others.
“My first instinct was to look for my mother. Once I spotted her, I took her away from the area. Then I began looking for my grandmother, but when I heard that she had been sitting inside, my heart sank,” he recalled. “If you saw the scene, you would know there was no way anyone inside could have survived, because simply the debris from the blast had injured everyone even in the vicinity.
“She (his mother) was near the window, but had been protected from the brunt of the blast by a nearby partition, and she suffered only minor injuries. Many of those around her had died.”
When he returned a short while later, he found his grandmother inside the church and, almost miraculously, alive.
“When I went looking for my grandmother, I wasn’t expecting to find her alive. But, as it turned out, the blast had hit and killed those around her, but she had been protected from severe damage by the bodies of the others,” Shanaka said. “In the end, she was hurt badly having been hit in the head with shrapnel, but we were able to take her to hospital for surgery.”
If that was Shanaka’s experience in Negombo, over in the capital city of Colombo, Hasitha Boyagoda, Sri Lanka’s Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year last year, and three members of his family were equally fortunate to survive.
He was having Easter Sunday breakfast at Shangri-La Hotel when the explosion took place there. It was a wonder that they came out of it with only minor injuries, the blast having taken place in such close proximity to them.
Charith Senananayake, the team manager of the Galle provincial team Boyagoda was recently a part of, confirmed that the young player was fine but “completely shaken”.
The 19-year-old Boyagoda has been earmarked as a star for the future, having hit an Under-19 ODI record 191 against Kenya in January 2018. He is also a straight A student, something that is the more impressive considering his quality as a cricketer.
How his experience on Sunday morning might affect Boyagoda is anyone’s guess. As for Shanaka, he’s obviously distressed by the experience and his confidence has been dented: “I’m scared to go on to the streets, or to go to the hospital.”
But his faith in the strength of the Sri Lankan people is not shaken.
“There has never been a problem in Negombo in terms of inter-racial relations,” he said. “It’s always been a safe haven of sorts. There’s never been a problem with any community. The people here are very good and kind-hearted, and they don’t gossip or look into other people matters. I have no words to express how innocent and peaceful the people here are.”