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Sri Lanka players arrive home

The Sri Lanka cricketers arrive back in Colombo following their safe return from Lahore where they were targeted by armed gunmen.

A tired-looking Sri Lanka team arrived in Colombo this morning following their safe return from Lahore where they were targeted by heavily armed gunmen. The team bus was on its way to the Gaddafi Stadium for the third day of the second Test against Pakistan when it came under attack by unidentified gunmen. Several Sri Lanka cricketers were injured, none of them seriously, but six policemen and two civilians died in the attack. The players were airlifted out of the stadium by an army helicopter to the Lahore Airport and returned to Sri Lanka by a specially chartered flight from Abu Dhabi. The Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene, who suffered a minor ankle injury, said that he was relieved to get back home and was counting his blessings. "I'm just very happy to be able to see my family again to come back to Sri Lanka in one piece," Jayawardene said. "Every breath I take, I'm glad I can take it without a problem. When you experience an incident like this, your whole life flashes in front of you in a moment. "I don't think any of us expected to get out of this alive. We were very lucky no one actually suffered any serious or life-threatening injuries. "Everyone is in good shape. There are a few guys who need more time to recover. Hopefully we can put this behind us and move forward." Jayawardene said that their experiences with militant skirmishes back home, where a conflict is raging with Tamil rebels, had helped them survive the ordeal. "We are used to hearing, seeing these things ? firing, bombings. So we got onto the floor of the bus when the firing began. It was like natural instinct," he added. "In hindsight, this could have happened anywhere in the world. In the future, I think all of us will step back and look at the bigger picture besides just touring abroad, taking into account our families."

Relatives of the players along with the sports minister Gamini Lokuge thronged the airport to receive the players. The middle-order batsman Thilan Samaraweera, the worst hit in the attack, and the young opener Tharanga Paranavitana, who suffered shrapnel injuries to his chest, were immediately taken to a hospital. "We were lucky to get away safe and sound from this terrible incident," said the vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara who suffered shrapnel injuries to his chest. "We are very happy to be back home and I guess we will spend the next few weeks coming to terms with what has happened. "I think the best thing is for us to go on playing cricket." The middle-order batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, who escaped without injury, said he was still shocked following the incident.

"It was a really bad experience and I wanted to get back to my family as soon as possible," said Dilshan. "I'm a little better now, but I'm still shocked. We had left the hotel for the stadium and 10 minutes into our journey we heard sounds around the bus. "I saw two cars parked close to the bus. Two guys went down and then there was a shot aimed at the bus driver's head. Luckily he wasn't hit. "We realised we were under attack and there were sounds of people shouting outside. They were shooting from all directions and I guess about 30 to 40 bullets were fired at the bus. "The driver managed to just keep going and we reached the stadium. It was a really bad experience." The off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, another player who escaped unhurt, said that they all had the driver of the bus, Mehar Mohammad Kahlil, to thank. "The driver saved the entire team because he just kept going despite the heavy gunfire," said the world's leading bowler in both Tests and one-day internationals. "Had he stopped there, we would not come out of this alive. "Once we reached the stadium we were only bothered about attending to the guys who were injured." *PA

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