The Bangladesh cricket team escaped unhurt despite being in close vicinity of a shooting attack on a mosque here but its ongoing tour of New Zealand was called off owing to the “unprecedented act of violence” in which 49 people were killed.
The attack took place on two mosques in the city and also injured more than 20 people, according to the police.
The Bangladesh team, which was about to enter the the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Hagley Park to offer prayers, escaped unscathed but the situation led to the authorities calling off the third and final Test match starting Saturday. The match was the tour finale for the visitors.
“We are very thankful that we weren’t caught in the crossfire, but what we saw was straight out of a movie scene. We could see bloodstained people staggering out of the mosque,” Bangladesh team manager Khaled Mashud told reporters here.
“Maybe for about eight-ten minutes, we were all inside the bus and were sitting with our heads bowed, just in case someone fires at us,” he added.
The team’s Indian Performance analyst Shrinivas Chandrasekeran, a Mumbai-based computer-engineer-turned-cricket-analyst, was there in the bus at the time of the incident. The side’s spin consultant Sunil Joshi, also an Indian, was however at the team hotel.
“We couldn’t react initially. In such a horror situation, your brain automatically freezes as you are terrified. That’s exactly what happened to all of us,” Chandrasekaran, who has been with the team for the past one year, told PTI.
On being contacted, Joshi said, “I am safe, I will be back in India on Wednesday next week. I cannot talk on the incident right now.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the incident marked “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”
“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.
Bangladesh’s senior opener Tamim Iqbal said it was a frightening experience for the team.
“…Please keep us in your prayers,” he tweeted.
Ardern issued a strong statement condemning the attack.
“This is significant and I can tell you now this is and will be one of New Zealand’s darkest days. I would describe it as an unprecedented act of violence, an act that has absolutely no place in New Zealand. This is not who we are,” she said.
“Certainly it has occurred at a place where people should have been expressing their religious freedom, where they should have been in a safe environment, and they have not been today. There is no place in New Zealand for such extreme acts of unprecedented violence.
“The people who were the subject of this attack today, New Zealand is their home, they should be safe here. The person who has perpetuated this violent act against them, they have no place in New Zealand society,” she added.
The players were initially barred from leaving the bus but, after several minutes, disembarked and made their way through to the Hagley Park ground. They later went back to the hotel.
The bus carried 17 members of the team with Liton Das, Nayeem Hasam and spin bowling consultant Joshi staying back at the hotel.
Mashud said the players are bound to be affected after escaping death by a whisker.
“It is natural to be affected. When you see something like a terror attack in front of you, and you see blood spilled in front of you, this will affect any human being. It wouldn’t have occurred to us then that we would be safe later. Some of the boys inside the bus were crying as well, because they were all worried about how to get out of there.”
The International Cricket Council (ICC) said it “fully supports” the cancellation of the third Test.
“Our thoughts and sincere condolences go out to the families and friends of those affected by this horrendous incident in Christchurch. Both teams, staff and match officials are safe and the ICC fully supports the decision to cancel the Test match,” ICC Chief Executive David Richardson said.