BATTING AWAY A PAINFUL TIME
‘Honestly, during that two or three minutes I did not think I would live’
IN a sporting world that has made a mindless cliche of the term “taking a bullet for the team’’, the story of Thilan Samaraweera stands out for one stunning reason. He actually did. The bullet he copped was fired not by a fast bowler but a terrorist with a machinegun.
It pierced his buttock and shot 35cm down his left leg.
His backside burnt with pain. He sensed he was going to die. His wife was told he had died.
Back home in Sri Lanka, she fainted in full view of the couple’s daughter when wrongly told by a friend that a terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Pakistan had claimed her husband’s life.
The six hours she took to contact him were sheer torture that drove her stress levels so far off the charts she took more than a year to recover.
One minute Samaraweera was the happiest cricketer on the planet after scoring his second double century in as many Tests against Pakistan in Lahore the day before. The next he was fearing for his life.
Somehow he recovered, played 32 more Tests (for 81 in all), now lives in Melbourne and spent the past week in Brisbane training to become a level-three coach where any advice he has on the art of batting patiently would be well worth listening to given he was such a studied craftsman.
International cricket finally returned to Pakistan last week with Pakistan playing Zimbabwe but a suicide bombing outside the ground in Lahore – the same city that saw the attack in March 2009 – revives painful memories for all involved in the initial attack.
Samaraweera said the return of international cricket to Pakistan after six years had captured his interest.
“The shooting changed my life,’’ Samaraweera said.
“I believe God gave me onee more chance to live. Honestly, during that two or three minutes I did not think I would live. There were so many bullets flying here and there. That three minutes was like a year.
“I take life easy now. I went to the big hole and I came out. I am a more easygoing person now.
“The return of cricket to Pakistan was definitely emotional. I hope everything goes well for Pakistan from now. Hopefully international cricket will be safe.’’
The big hole he talks about was depression. Restless nightsih and relentless fretting, more for his family than himself, took their toll and he required the help of psychologists.
“I struggled f for sixi monthsonths but my wife took 18 months to recover. I could not sleep. I had so many bad memories.
“What helped me was that al all the psychologists said talk a about it to people. Don’t keep it inside. If 10 people ask, just k keep talking because you get m more relaxed.’’
Samaraweera was despera ately unlucky in some ways but acutely fortunate in others.
“Doctors said I was lucky there was no exit point because the wound would have been greater,” he said.
“They said it was a lucky bullet, so I have kept it at home.
“They said if the bullet hit the bone, I wouldn’t have played cricket again. They said if it hit my nerve, I was paralysed and I wouldn’t walk again. Unfortunately, because of 30 years of civil war in Sri Lanka, we learn about how to handle these things at school and survive. I think that helped.’’
Samaraweera’s instant warmth and endearing smile are reflections of a man who has stared down the dark demons of the most traumatic event of his life, all the while knowing that echoes of the past will never leave him.
“I am scared to fire crackers. It takes you back. From 2009 that sounds still disturbs me. I don’t think that pain with ever hide until I die.’’