To hell and back

Black Caps' McMillam recalls moment tour of Pakistan shattered by terrorist bomb

Last updated 22:20 11/10/2008

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CRAIG McMILLAN's new book Out of the Park was launched last week with much of the press coverage being focused on his relationship with Black Caps coach John Bracewell. But there is more to Out of the Park than a good old-fashioned "get square" with the coach. Today, Sunday News publishes an edited version of one of the most powerful chapters in the book as McMillan relives the horrific bombing that killed 14 at the Black Caps' hotel in Karachi in 2002.

NO cricket tour I was ever involved in could come close to the on and off-field dramas which we were to experience during the 2002 tour of Pakistan.

In many ways the omens were always bad for what was to follow in Pakistan.

For a start, the tour was delayed for seven months due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. It was supposed to start in September 2001. The team was picked and we headed for a stopover in Singapore on the way to the subcontinent.

But that was as far as we got. We had arrived in Singapore late that night and Chris Harris and I were rooming together. While Harry went to sleep pretty much straight away, I am a more of a night owl. I struggle to get to sleep before midnight, so I was just flicking between TV channels and ended up on CNN. They were showing a fire coming out of a building, then they showed what had happened earlier with a passenger jet crashing into the World Trade Centre. I woke Harry up and told him to look at it. It was pretty hard to take in it was all surreal.

Martin Snedden was new to the position of chief executive of New Zealand Cricket but he wasted no time in deciding the right thing for us to do was to return home immediately.

We were due to fly out the following morning to Pakistan. With all the uncertainty, and then the news the US military were looking at sending resources into Pakistan, it was the right decision to make.

Seven months later and the belated tour to Pakistan was back on again. But it wouldn't take long before hopes the rescheduled tour would run smoothly, both on and off the field, were shattered.

After being outplayed in the ODI series 3-0, and losing the first test in Lahore by an innings and 324 runs, the second test in Karachi was our final chance to get something out of the tour. But off-the-field events would soon change all that.

My build-up to the first day of the second test, on May 8, 2002, started no differently from any other. We were staying at the Pearl Intercontinental Hotel, one of two hotels in central Karachi which were frequented largely by westerners. We had two buses that would take us to the ground, an early bus and a later bus. The early bus was always for Mark Richardson, who liked to go to the ground and have 1000 throw-downs before anyone turned up at the match venue. The rest of us, who liked to have more sleep, waited around for the later bus. The early bus was originally scheduled to leave at 7.45am and the second bus was set to leave at 8.15am.

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It was about 7.45am and I was lying in bed thinking I would have to get out of bed soon and that getting ready was going to be a bit of a rush. I was struggling to get up that morning for some reason.

Five minutes later I was blown out of bed. I had been lying in bed and all of a sudden I was on the floor, with glass all around me. My first thought was that someone had let off a grenade on one of the floors of the hotel. I was lucky that I had my curtains pulled across the window. The blast, which was outside my window, blew all the glass in, which was then stopped by the curtains. It gave me a shield. My door was blown off its hinges and there was a haze of smoke hanging around.

Eventually, I heard yelling. I didn't know what the hell had happened so I brushed myself off and walked over to what was left of the window. What I saw shocked me a bus up in smoke and a massive crater in the ground. At that stage I had no idea whose bus had been blown up.

I looked at my watch and thought, "S***, the early bus was supposed to leave around now". The bus was an absolute mess, there was a massive crater. I later found out that the motor from the bomber's car landed 300 metres down the road.

We had an Australian security expert with us, Reg Dickason, and the next thing I remember is him yelling at me to get downstairs and get to the car park as quickly as possible. I went to my suitcase and grabbed my passport, thinking, "If I am going to get out of this place I will need my passport".

It was chaos downstairs people were in shock, running all over the place. I ran downstairs to get to the car park and saw mass destruction everywhere.

At the top of the hotel was a Japanese restaurant where we ate most nights, which had glass all around its high ceilings. You could sit up there and look all around Karachi while you were having your dinner. From the car park I looked up and saw glass panes hanging by a thread, some were dropping and smashing. It was unreal.

About 10 of my team-mates were already in the car park by the time I got down there. Everyone was in a state of shock. A few of the guys, including Stephen Fleming, had been at breakfast when the bomb went off and had seen some pretty atrocious things. Members of the Pakistan cricket team, who were staying at the same hotel, were also in shock after seeing things that no one would ever want to.

If what had happened wasn't disturbing enough, there was still a lot of uncertainty about our team-mates. Because some of us were at breakfast, some were meant to be on the early bus and some were still in their rooms, no one knew if anyone was injured, or worse. We were all distressed about exactly what might have happened.

Reg was invaluable to us. He had been specifically trained for such an event. He took control and did what needed to be done. But it was all too much for our local team liaison officer, who had a heart attack and was taken to hospital.


Eventually, everyone made it down to the car park and it was a massive relief I don't think we've ever been as happy as that very moment to see all our team-mates in the one place.

From the car park we were taken to the hotel pool for about an hour, a time when the hotel was fully checked for any other explosives. Quite often there can be a second bomb there was concern about that.

During that time a lot of phone calls were made back home, to let everyone know that we were all right. For me, phoning my wife-to-be Cherie was a bloody hard call to make.

Cherie McMillan: "The person I remember having the most conversations with was Linda Harris, Chris' wife. She always took you under her wing. I was at work when I got a phone call from Mum to tell me that a bomb had gone off. I was in shock I felt sick and didn't know what to do next. But we were quickly reassured that they were safe. Obviously, the biggest relief came when I talked to Craig. Linda came over to our place that night and, having each other there, knowing that we were both in the same situation, was a comfort, just talking about how we were feeling."

As the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association's Black Caps rep, one of the other calls I made was to CPA boss Heath Mills.

Heath Mills: "Craig called me literally 10 minutes after the bomb went off. It was quite a surreal discussion over the phone I am sitting there talking to this guy, who is acting on behalf of all of his team-mates who are effectively shell-shocked in the back of the hotel where a bomb has just gone off. He and I were working through the players' position and what we should be communicating to New Zealand Cricket. He was very calm and very cool at a time of crisis. He wasn't thinking about himself. He was thinking about the team and NZ Cricket. He very quickly ascertained that the guys didn't want to be hanging around Pakistan for too much longer. We told that to NZ Cricket and Martin Snedden was excellent. He always placed the security of the players above everything else. He would never put them in a dangerous situation. It only took one conversation with Martin and he was pulling the team home."

Jeff Crowe was our manager and he was great in his role in the aftermath of the Karachi bomb. He was very proactive in terms of getting things sorted very quickly to enable an early return home that day. The Pakistan Cricket Board weren't happy for us to go something which still defies logic. A couple of members of the Pakistan cricket team could have been casualties, too they were down at breakfast with our guys.

New Zealand Cricket press release, May 8, 2002: New Zealand Cricket bring TelstraClear Black Caps home from Pakistan:

Following the explosion of a bomb outside the TelstraClear Black Caps team hotel New Zealand Cricket has decided to bring the team home from Pakistan. Chief Executive of New Zealand Cricket, Martin Snedden: "From the information we have to date it seems that a bomb exploded in a commuter bus on the road outside the team hotel. The explosion occurred close to the time when the team were due to depart for the National Stadium but, in line with the security plan, the team bus was situated in a secure car park. Our main priority now is to bring the players home safely to their families."

After the hotel was cleared we were told to go back to our rooms. There was a real unease about being back in the hotel. Some guys took some photos of what they could see, others went for a walk something I didn't understand because from what I heard the things they saw had lasting effects on them. I had no interest in doing that at all I was just happy to stay in the safety of the hotel.

The first thing I did was pack my bags as quickly as I could so that at any time I was ready to go. Some of us got together and played cards in the afternoon. It really was a surreal environment. We talked about the different scenarios in the hotel which had glass everywhere, doors blown off hinges and shrapnel all over the place. We were just waiting around and passing time before we were able to leave at 5pm. Time went so slowly. When we finally were able to go, the local authorities went out of their way to make sure we had as smooth a trip to the airport as possible. They cleared the roads for our trip to the airport and we had a large police escort.

It didn't take long before we started hearing different stories and theories about what happened and who was targeted. The bus that was blown up had European scientists on board. It was parked fairly close to our early bus which was delayed and hadn't left by the time the bomb went off. It is still a freaky thing to consider whenever I think back to what happened. Some of our guys could have been minutes away from losing their lives. Once we started talking and thinking about that, the magnitude of the incident really did sink in. We were bloody lucky.

Everyone dealt with things differently. I had no shortage of sleepless nights. When I did get to sleep I would more often than not wake up in a cold sweat. I would replay in my mind what happened and what I saw that day. It was something I couldn't shake. Another thing that wouldn't leave me was the ringing in my ears. I would be semi-asleep and then I would hear this massive "boom". For at least two months afterwards it remained vivid in my memory.

The Black Caps returned to Pakistan in November 2003, but McMillan along with Ian Butler, Scott Styris and Lou Vincent decided not to tour.

- Sunday News