Smiling faces, all-religion blessings, hordes of cheering fans and representatives form the Sri Lankan government welcomed its cricketers warmly, as they arrived here on Sunday morning at the Bandaranaike international airport in Colombo.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa set the tone for the celebrations, congratulating his team on its performance as the nation shrugged off the defeat to a better team the night before in Mumbai.

“Sri Lanka can be proud of its cricketers led by its captain Kumar Sangakkara. The whole of Sri Lanka was with the team. The performance of the team augurs well for the future,” the President told the team.

On his part, Sangakkara, who was selected captain of the ICC world team following the World Cup, mentioned that he and his team were grateful to the President for all the support, encouragement and guidance that he had given the team. The fireworks remained in their wrappers in all of Sri Lanka after the country's defeat in the ICC world cup cricket final but the rest of the planned celebrations went on. There was an elaborate ceremony at the VIP lounge at the airport where religious leaders blessed the team after which the team interacted with officials and others. The cricketers looked tired but were smiling and willing to oblige autograph and interview seekers from the media.

The team then left to the major celebrations venue, the Independence Square in the city, where hundreds of people had gathered to watch the match on big screen on a hot Sunday.

Amazing grace

With amazing grace, unseen elsewhere in the sub-continent following a defeat, the crowd cheered its cricketers. “They are our heros. They played superbly for most part,” said a middle-aged man in the crowd, when asked if he did not feel that the team had let him down in the finals.

Sangakkara addressed them in Sinhala and said that it was good to make it to the finals in 2007 (world cup), in 2009 (T-20 world cup) and in 2011 (world cup). But it was disappointing that none of this could be converted into a victory befitting a champion side.

No apology was expected of him in a country that treats its cricketers with dignity minus the intrusive curiosity; and he offered them none. Sangakkara talked about the World Cup journey, thanked the support of the fans and said that only very good teams made it to the finals so many times. So there was nothing wrong about the way they were playing the game; and it meant that the future of cricket in the country was bright.

The team witnessed traditional dance performances, posed for pictures and signed autographs and Sangakkara addressed a media conference ahead of warm good-byes.

Sri Lanka's cricketers had lost the final game sometime past 11 p.m. on Saturday. In under 12 hours, as a hot Sunday sun blazed in all its glory, Sri Lankan people, by the grace and warmth they displayed in the face of a defeat, unlike all over the sub-continent, proved that they can rise above: cricket, after all is a game. All that matters is that the game is played well and in its true spirit. In doing so, the people have set an example to the rest of south Asia.

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