It has been four days since the deadly gun attack on two mosques in Christchurch left over 40 people dead and scores injured. People who witnessed the incident from close quarters are still experiencing the aftereffects of the tragedy.
Former India left-arm spinner and current Bangladesh national team's spin coach Sunil Joshi sounds shaken as he narrates the occurrences of that fateful Friday afternoon. When the gunman went on a killing spree inside the mosque, the Bangladesh team bus, with 13 players in it, had reached there to offer their prayers. Before they could get down, they saw bleeding people running out of the mosque.
"First of all, we are very lucky. By God's grace we are happy to be back home and being with our relieved families," says Joshi, who is back home but struggling to get sleep despite being jetlagged.
Joshi was slightly lucky in the sense he didn't leave for the ground along with the rest of the team for a 2.30 pm practice as he wanted to have something different for lunch instead of the same menu on offer at the ground.
"Usually on Fridays, the team bus will reach the ground for lunch at around 12.30 pm, and by 1.00 pm they reach the mosque for prayer. They come back to the hotel from the prayers by 1.30 pm or so and then we all leave together for practice by 2 pm.
"On that day, I don't know for what, it must be an act of God, I decided to skip lunch at the ground and instead have it at the hotel. A couple of other players and some of the support staff too stayed back and only the head coach went with the team along with the physio," he recalls.
Though he was at a "safe" distance from the scene of crime, Joshi is no less traumatised. "When the manager called me to inform about the attack and that we should stay put at the hotel, I switched on the TV to know what exactly was happening. While I was a bit taken aback by what the manager told me, I had no idea of the scale of the tragedy until I saw the news. It was horrific and mind-numbing. I just couldn't believe what was happening and felt so helpless. The news had spread obviously, and my family and friends began calling me, inquiring about my well being. It was the most stressful moment in my life," he tells you.
When players came back to the hotel after a providential escape, they were inconsolable.
"They were so petrified that they just refused to leave for their respective rooms and for hours they stayed together. They felt that assurance and safety in each other's company even as the support staff tried to console them."
An extended pre-match press meet by skipper Riyadh Mahmudullah had ensured the players reached the mosque late.
"Usually it (the press meet) ends by 12.45 pm but that day it dragged up to 1 pm which is the scheduled time for prayers. By the time they reached the mosque, they could see a lady and a man running out with their bodies soaked in blood. The lady kept screaming at them not to step out of the bus and drive away. But the bus driver was frozen, he just refused to move away from the site. These guys (the players) started panicking and then they decided to get out and reach the stadium through the nearby park. It still gives me nightmares to think what would have happened if the press conference had ended earlier than it did because all the 13 players would have been in the mosque by then," he says.
Joshi thanks the Indian Embassy in New Zealand for helping him book an early flight home.
"After the match was called off, my ticket was rescheduled for 19th but I couldn't have stayed there any longer. My family was worried and I just wanted to reach home as early as possible. Through a friend of mine in Wellington, I got in touch with the Indian Embassy and I explained them everything. The people at embassy were helpful and they sorted out my ticket and got it booked for 16th."