New Zealand Mosque Attack: A tour marred by cruelty, marked by humanity
12:00 AM, March 22, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:38 AM, March 22, 2019

A tour marred by cruelty, marked by humanity

I can still remember the day before I was set to fly for New Zealand to cover the series between Bangladesh and the Kiwis. I had a detailed meeting with my sports editor regarding my work plan as it was a crucial series for the Tigers.

We saw the tour as a crucial build-up for the ICC World Cup in England in summer 2019 as it would be the last set of international matches before the Tigers leave for Ireland in May for the World Cup lead-in. It was all supposed to be about the cricket.

But Bangladesh were fated to continue their winless record against the hosts in their own backyard. Injuries and batting failures dogged the Tigers, but that was a sideshow by the time the three-match Test series was cut down to a two-Test one because of a tragic event that would have overshadowed  even the most resplendent cricket, let alone the rather incoherent cricket Bangladesh were playing.

The second Test in Wellington, like the first in Hamilton, ended in an innings defeat for Bangladesh. Kiwi left-arm seamer Neil Wagner's nine-wicket haul engineered a humiliating defeat on the fifth morning after the first two days were washed out -- a measure of the gulf of class between the sides.

Little did we know that that would be the end of the cricketing portion of the tour. The team, with me and other touring reporters in tow, returned to Christchurch for the third and final Test in the hope of ending a dismal tour with some positives, but what actually transpired would change our lives forever.

Scenes of the 'Black Friday' -- March 15th, the day before the third Test in Christchurch -- are vivid in their detail in my mind, and will very likely not fade over time. After the pre-match press conference at Hagley Oval, skipper Mahmudullah Riyad rushed towards the team bus to join 16 other players and support staff for Jumma prayers.

Bare minutes had passed before, as if in a trance, I was speaking on the phone  to Tamim's wavering voice: “Please call the police, there is a shootout going on at the mosque.”

I rushed towards the scene without knowing what was happening. I saw a dead body and a man soaked with blood walking towards me just minutes after the deadly shootout at the mosque.  I can still visualise the scared faces of the Bangladesh players, who just came off the bus right opposite the mosque. Mushfiqur Rahim couldn't stop crying. “I saw dead bodies, people are shot down.”

Somehow we managed to rush from that place towards the stadium and while the rest of the day passed in a haze, when I went to bed that night, I couldn't sleep properly. There has not been a single night since that nightmares of dead bodies and blood have not woke me up in a cold sweat.

As a reporter and as a person, it has always been about cricket and the players during international tours, but this New Zealand tour has taught me that cricket is nothing compared to the life. That, for me, is a gift from the Almighty -- the appreciation of remaining alive.

I saw players shaken from the incident at the team hotel. Tamim Iqbal, Taijul Islam, Mominul Haque slept over at Mahmudullah's room that night.

There were quite a few occasions when players tried to shift their focus from that incident but it even five minutes did not elapse before talk returned to what they experienced and what could have happened if they reached the mosque just a few minutes earlier.

The team took the return flight the next day and reached home safely, but I remained in Christchurch for the next few days.

On March 16, the day I was supposed to witness the first day of the third Test at The Hagley Oval --  cancelled for obvious reasons -- I was at the Christchurch hospital.

I have seen people at the ICU who were injured during the horrific attack, crying and screaming in pain. I have witnessed the terrible grief imprinted on the faces of the relatives of victims who died in the massacre, waiting to receive the dead bodies of their loved ones.

I can't describe the situation and the atmosphere in words. I felt helpless yet at the same time I thanked the Almighty for the gift of life. There were many times in life that I felt like I was someone who could keep emotions in check in trying times, but that day I could not stop the tears.

I may not have known any of the dead personally, but I realised what humanity is and how it can change a person perception overnight.

I have seen the people of New Zealand crying while paying tribute to the victims outside the botanical garden in Christchurch. There was a sense of apology and genuine regret from every Kiwi about the incident that they never imagined could take place in New Zealand.

Six days have passed after that incident and I can still see the trauma and grief on the streets of Christchurch.

I have attended the Janaza of a few of the victims yesterday and have seen many non-Muslims present, which did not surprise me at all.

The incident may remain as one of the black spots in the history of New Zealand, but I can say with a lot of belief that the people of Christchurch and New Zealand have shown a lot of courage and solidarity, which will keep this peace-loving country the same in the coming days.

Time heals all scars. The players will once again start training and return to the field to perform their national duties and I will also start writing about cricket for my newspaper.

But the tour of New Zealand will remain the turning point of our lives, where we all realised that there is nothing more important than being alive and will always remember those 50 lives monstrously ended on that day.

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