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Sri Lankan Cricket Team Returns Home to Emotional Welcome

The Sri Lankan cricket team returned to Colombo a day after it was attacked by gunmen in Pakistan.  The attack - the first ever on a cricket team - could impact the hugely popular game in South Asia.

The team, shaken by the attack in Lahore, Pakistan, landed in a special aircraft in Colombo, early Wednesday, to emotional reunions with family and friends.

Several cricketers and a British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as they traveled to a stadium.

The captain of the team, Mahela Jayawardene, says they are lucky to be alive.

"To be honest, there were bullet holes in the bus everywhere - I honestly don't know how we escaped all this," he said. "It's all about trying to move on, and seeing my family and for the rest of the guys as well.  It is very unfortunate, we honestly don't want to be in that situation again."

The most seriously wounded player was Thilan Samaraweera, who was shot in the leg.

In Colombo, cricket administrators came under heavy criticism for their decision to tour Pakistan at a time when countries like India had called off tours because of security concerns.

The attack in Lahore was the first ever on cricketers and sports officials say cricket teams from around the world are likely to shun Pakistan as a sports venue.

But they say the fallout of the attack will also be felt in other South Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which have suffered from frequent terror strikes.

The need to heighten security for the sport is being felt in India.  The organizers of a popular cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League, say they will reschedule some matches after the government said it will be difficult to provide sufficient security for the event, which coincide with the country's month-long staggered general elections, starting mid April.

Several international cricket players scheduled to participate in the tournament also want security stepped up.       

A sports columnist in New Delhi, Sri Vatsa, says the attack in Pakistan will heighten worries about the possibility of similar strikes in other South Asian countries.

"I can't even visualize a situation where any young cricketer from Australia or England wanting to come to the subcontinent," he said.  "They will always be looking over their shoulder, even in the cricket field.  Is that an ideal situation for a sport to be played?"

The immediate spotlight will be on the Cricket World Cup, which four South Asian countries are scheduled to host in 2011.  The International Cricket Council is to discuss the fallout of the attack on the Sri Lankan team, next month.

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