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Cricket news - Memories of Christchurch attack rife; how could they not be?

The last time these two sides met was in New Zealand in February and March for a series of three ODIs and what was meant to be three Tests. Except the third Test never happened.

As important as this World Cup is to the players and coaching staffs and to the supporters of the ten countries involved, it is only sport. Sometimes, there's the temptation to attach too much prominence to the games we love, too much store by them, seek too much validation from them. There are many, many other things in life of far more importance which put sport into perspective. Nobody will have to tell that to New Zealand and Bangladesh.

The last time these two sides met was in New Zealand in February and March for a series of three ODIs and what was meant to be three Tests. Except the third Test never happened. The attack on the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, took place the day before the match was due to begin and the Bangladeshi squad narrowly avoided being part of the carnage that unfurled that day, senseless carnage, that took 51 innocent lives and left countless others injured.

What happened is unthinkable. What could have happened is even more unthinkable.

Bangladesh's players were on their way to the Al Noor mosque for prayers, delayed by a late press conference and an overrunning game of football at Hagley Oval. Had they not had Mahmudullah take as long in the presser, they may have been inside the mosque when the attack began. Instead, they were being driven there in a coach when the players spotted bodies lying in the road. Then, they heard gunshots.

They had the most horrible decision to make. Stay on the coach, leaving themselves as potential sitting ducks, or get out and run back to the ground. They hid for a time on the bus but finally decided to leave. Thankfully, they all returned to Hagley Oval safely.

The attacks rocked New Zealand to its core, with the country descending into national grief. Muslims were attacked that day in Christchurch, but this was an attack on a whole country, on tolerance, on inclusivity, on a way of life that wants to bring people together not tear them apart. After all, there is no them and us. Only us.

The Bangladesh squad, traumatised, scared, scarred by what they had seen and what they had come close to, headed home. The Christchurch Test was cancelled. Nobody wanted to play cricket. Nobody wanted to think about cricket. Everybody wanted to tell their families that they loved them. Everybody wanted to tell their friends and their neighbours that they were there for them. Everybody wanted to remember those whose lives were lost that day, celebrate the lives they had led.

It will have affected players from both countries, effects that will take a long time to heal. How can you erase such horrible, horrendous memories? With time. But of which, there has been so little.

And yet life goes on. It has to. The sun rises and people get back to whatever it is they do. That is the way of things, the way to show that we won't be defeated, that people who commit these horrendous atrocities will not win. They cannot be allowed to win.

Bangladesh's players are still coming to terms with what happened, but it has brought them closer. They would not have wished for it to have happened this way, but happened it has. "I have got so much respect for the players," their head coach Steve Rhodes said at The Oval. "The way that they have handled themselves after that event; the way that they have got themselves through it all.

"They have got some sort of brotherhood there now. They have shared with other Muslims who sadly perished that day. The experience they went through together on that coach, it somehow gelled them and I think that they have actually got solace from each other. They have tried to help each other through it, and I've got a lot of respect and admiration for the way they have pulled through. Because there's a lot of smiley faces at the moment, and going back to that day in Christchurch, I was thinking, how do we get a team back together after."

Bangladesh's players and coaches have tried to get on as normal, get stuck back into the cricket. The events of that day don't seem to have had much outward effect. Results have not suffered, the players seem in good spirits. Perhaps it's a facade. For people to express how they feel, talk about their emotions, is still a barrier to overcome in Bangladesh. Counselling was offered but not many players took it up.

Not only is the game at The Oval the first time the two sets of players will play each other since the incident, it is the first time they have met since that day. "It will be great to see them tomorrow," New Zealand's Tom Latham said. "They left pretty quickly [after the attack], so we didn't get a chance to see them. It will be great to get out on the cricket field tomorrow and do what we love doing."

The Bangladesh players prayed at the Central Mosque in London today, celebrating Eid and the end of Ramadam. However, the management would not disclose the arrangements in advance and the team travelled there in small groups rather than by coach. Understandably, they are taking no chances with security. Christchurch is still in their minds. No doubt the thoughts of the players and coaches from both teams will turn towards that terrible day. How could it not?

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