Lahore: Meher Mohammad Khalil , the bus driver who saved the lives of the Sri Lankan cricket team during Wednesday's terror attack is now considered a big hero in Pakistan. Khali kept his head cool and drove the bus to safety when it came under gun and grenade attack from terrorists.
Meher Mohammad Khalil says he did it for Pakistan. 'The thought that the Sri Lankans are guests and my country's image will be ruined if any of the players got seriously hurt spurred me,' he said. 'I kept my foot on the accelerator and drove the bus.'
Mr Khalil was behind the wheel when gunmen attacked the convoy bringing the Sri Lankan team to the stadium in Lahore on Tuesday. Eight people were killed, but none of the players suffered serious injury.
'It was shocking and then I heard Sri Lankan players shouting 'Go! Go!' and I did my best to take them to safety,' Mr Khalil told newsmen, from where his charges were dramatically airlifted to safety by the Pakistani air force. 'Had we stopped, a rocket launcher would have hit us,' the 42-year-old said. 'That could have been disastrous.'
Up to a dozen men - armed with grenades, a rocket launcher and automatic weapons - besieged the Sri Lankan team bus barely half a mile from the Gaddafi Stadium where they were due to start the third day's play in the second Test.
'The vehicle slowed at the roundabout when I saw two men come out of hiding and start shooting,' he said. 'There was continuous firing and then suddenly a man jumped in front of the bus and hurled a grenade towards us. But luckily it missed and I drove in between the security vehicles and safely took the bus to the stadium.'
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene and manager Brendon Kuruppu were full of praise for the driver. 'I was on the phone from Sri Lanka when I saw men coming towards us and started firing. It could have been worse but all praise to the driver who kept his cool and drove us out of danger,' he said.
Jayawardene said Mr Khalil was the saviour. 'He did not think for his life. He was wise enough to keep driving and took us to the stadium. It could have been fatal,' the skipper said.
Spin maestro Muttiah Muralitharan said Mr Khalil was brilliant.
'I am standing in front of you just because of the driver,' said Muralitharan, who gave his Sri Lankan shirt to Mr Khalil as a thank you.
thatscricket with inputs from Agencies