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A hail of bullets ripped through our bus'

PUBLISHED: 17:08 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:43 16 August 2010

A Pakistani bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers enters The Gaddafi Stadium after masked gunmen attacked Sri Lankan team in Lahore on March 3, 2009. Masked gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least eight people and wounding six team members, police said.  AFP PHOTO/Aamir QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

A Pakistani bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers enters The Gaddafi Stadium after masked gunmen attacked Sri Lankan team in Lahore on March 3, 2009. Masked gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least eight people and wounding six team members, police said. AFP PHOTO/Aamir QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

2009 AFP

A CRICKET coach has spoken of the terrifying moment he discovered a close friend had been injured during a deadly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Simon Willis, 34, who is first-team coach at Kent Cricket Club, spoke to Paul Farbrace minu

AMBUSHED: Paul Farbrace.

A CRICKET coach has spoken of the terrifying moment he discovered a close friend had been injured during a deadly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

Simon Willis, 34, who is first-team coach at Kent Cricket Club, spoke to Paul Farbrace minutes after he suffered shrapnel injuries in the gunfight on Tuesday.

The former Kent wicket-keeper-batsman and academy coach was travelling with the Sri Lanka team ahead of the fourth Test against Pakistan when gunmen ambushed the team coach and its accompanying police escort in the volatile Pakistani city of Lahore.

Six policemen and a driver were killed in the attack and seven Sri Lankan players were injured.

ANXIOUS: Simon Willis.

Mr Farbrace, who has been assistant coach of the Sri Lankan team for 18 months, suffered a shrapnel wound to the right arm. Mr Willis said: "He was really shaken. There was open gunfire on the coach, people getting shot, and after that everything was pretty much a blank. He said it had been a terrifying experience."

As a dozen men attacked the team bus with rifles and grenades, Mr Farbrace dived for cover on the team bus and was injured in the crossfire.

Mr Willis added: "When I heard about the attack, my first reaction was to try and speak to him to make sure he was okay, because he's not just an old work colleague. I have known Paul for about 20 years and we're very close. It was such a relief when he put our minds at rest and we found out he was alright."

One of Mr Farbrace's students at the academy, James Goodman, described the moment he heard his former coach had been caught up in the shootings. The 18-year-old, who lives in Orpington and goes to St Olave's Grammar School, said: "I was really worried because he's been a big influence on my career - almost like a father-figure in terms of cricket.

"I've known him since 2004 when I joined the academy. In the winter we would train a lot and we spent a lot of time around each other.

"We went on a trip to India a couple of years ago and that was when we really built up a relationship beyond just cricket. We got on really well and he was such a nice guy. He wanted to help you and, although his primary role was about cricket, he had a perspective outside of that and gave lots of advice showing there is more to life than just cricket.

"I sent him an email as soon as I found out that he'd been injured saying I hoped he was alright. It was a big relief. From the sounds of it, he had a pretty lucky escape."

According to witnesses, the assailants carried out a co-ordinated attack, ambushing the convoy carrying the squad and match officials at a traffic circle close to the main sports stadium, triggering a 15-minute gun battle with police guarding the vehicles.

The attackers hit the team bus with automatic weapons from several locations and fired a rocket and a grenade that missed.

It is thought all the gunmen escaped and police have not confirmed who is responsible for the attack.

Former Kent cricketer and Times columnist Matt Walker called on the sport's governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to lead a review into the current security measures in place in the domestic game.

The growing popularity of Twenty20 cricket has led to a boom in the number of people going to matches and, as a result, Mr Walker feels players need greater protection.

He said: "There needs to be a reaction to this and, hopefully, the ECB will look at whether we need to tighten up security. Unfortunately, it takes an incident like this for something to get done. I don't know whether that will filter down to the domestic game, but you hope it would.

"We've been saying for two or three years that, particularly with rise of Twenty20, things need to be addressed. I've never felt particularly threatened at a match, but it just takes one idiot in the crowd and, suddenly, you're not protecting the cricketers at all.

"Nothing similar to the incident in Pakistan has happened here yet, but that's no reason not to do anything."

Mr Farbrace represented Kent and Middlesex as a player before returning to the St Lawrence Ground to take over from Mr Willis as academy director in 2004.

He worked there for three years before leaving the county to take up a coaching role with the Sri Lanka team in July 2007.

Stuart.henderson@archant.co.uk

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