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Sri Lanka cricket fans in shock

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Colombo

Tharanga Paranavitana's father in Colombo,
Relatives of Sri Lanka's players waited anxiously for news

Sri Lankan cricket fans are yet to recover from the shock and disbelief that their national team was attacked by heavily armed men in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The disbelief slowly turned into anger and many people have now started questioning the wisdom of sending the team to Pakistan after India had pulled out of its series with the Pakistani team because of security reasons.

Cricket is the most popular game in Sri Lanka and the national team's players - like the captain Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralidharan - have a huge fan following.

It is common to see billboards of cricket stars advertising everything from noodles to four-by-four vehicles.

Many in Sri Lanka took solace in cricket during almost three decades of civil conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels.

So the national team's cricketers are loved, adored, respected and revered. And that is why there is a sense of shock and anger.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse was among those to swiftly to react to the event.

He said the team had gone to Pakistan as "goodwill ambassadors" and termed the incident a "cowardly terrorist attack".

Officials also said that the president was cutting short his official visit Nepal following the incident.

Celebrations cut short

The mood in the capital Colombo was no different.

"I was shocked when I first heard the news," says Azam Amin, a University student in Colombo.

Thilan Samaraweera celebrates, 02/03
Thilan Samaraweera had completed an historic double-century on Monday

"It was one of the bad moments for us as our national team has been attacked for the first time."

With seven players injured, two of them having bullet wounds, the Sri Lankan cricket board officials were in shock.

Were they satisfied with the security measures taken by Pakistan?

"We were satisfied. We were assured before the team went to Pakistan and we were satisfied but unfortunately, this incident has taken place," says Duleep Mendis, the chief executive of the Sri Lankan Cricket Board and a former player.

Many Sri Lankan fans were rejoicing on Monday with the fact that their star batsman Thilan Samaraweera scored his second consecutive double century in as many matches, joining an elite group of cricketers including the Australian legend Don Bradman.

Now, Mr Samaraweera is one of those who has received bullet wounds. Although he is stated to be out of danger, many fans here are worried about how this is going to affect his performance in future.

Questions raised

Team-mate Tharanga Paranavitana was the other player to have need hospital treatment - while five others sustained lesser injuries.

"These are some of the best cricketers. This is the nucleus of the team preparing for the next cricket world cup in 2011. It will be difficult for us to now pick up a team of this nature," says P Balasingham, a retired lecturer in Colombo.

Now questions are raised in Sri Lanka over who gave the authority for the team to travel to Pakistan when the Indian team was pulled out because of security reasons.

The Sri Lankan government will no doubt come under scrutiny, as it gave the approval for the team to go to Pakistan in December.

Questions will be raised whether proper security assessment was done before the team's departure to Pakistan.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohana said no security assessment could have anticipated this kind of attack.

"It was a well co-ordinated, well-planned and clinically executed attack," he said.

"It would have been impossible to have warded against this type of situation. The lesson we learn from this is terrorism is a threat to all the major countries in the region."

But despite the government's justification, many Sri Lankan cricket fans will no doubt raise more questions in coming weeks.

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