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Red letter day for cricket, hockey teams

New Delhi (PTI): More than a month after their Twenty20 World Cup triumph sent the entire nation into a frenzy, India’s cricket stars were on Tuesday awarded a rare honour of being felicitated by the President and the Prime Minister.

It turned out to be a red letter day for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his bravehearts as they first got an audience with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and were then felicitated by President Pratibha Patil at the majestic Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

The Indian hockey team, which won the Asia Cup recently, also had their moment of glory with the President felicitating them along with the cricketers at a simple ceremony which lasted about half an hour.

It was a moment to cherish for the cricket team, which beat arch-rivals Pakistan in a thrilling Twenty20 World Cup final, as the players interacted with the Prime Minister and his wife Gursharan Kaur for close to 15 minutes.

The Prime Minister personally congratulated each member of the team and presented them with mementos for their remarkable achievement.

The President also hosted a high tea at the Banquet Hall for the two teams, who were dressed in formal navy blue blazers.

While the hockey team was seated almost an hour before the function began, the cricketers came just a few minutes before the President’s arrival after their interaction with the Prime Minister.

However, Virender Sehwag was not present.

Dhoni greeted his hockey counterpart Prabodh Tirkey and the duo together posed for shutterbugs much to the delight of the spectators.

Dhoni also presented to Patil a bat signed by all the players of the World Champion team after exchanging pleasantries and introducing the members of his team to the First Lady.

After the cricketers, the President personally interacted with the hockey players and captain Prabodh Tirkey presented her a replica of the Asia Cup as she posed with the team.

“It is heartening to know that it has been a successful year for Indian sports. I congratulate the victorious teams for their hard work. As a sports loving nation we should see that achievements of sportspersons do not go unappreciated,” Patil said in a brief speech before coming down from the dais to meet the players.

“You deserve all the compliments for that. Not only me, the entire nation is proud of your achievements. I have called you to appreciate your triumph so that the younger generation can derive inspiration from you,” she added.

The President did not forget to appreciate the football team’s feat of winning the Nehru Cup although Baichung Bhutia’s men had to miss the ceremony because of their World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in Goa on Tuesday.

Patil also made a special mention of chess ace Viswanathan Anand’s World Championship triumph, which she had already acknowledged after his return to India earlier this month.

“In the light of recent victories we can be sure that India remains committed to encouraging sports,” she said.

The President then joined the two teams for high tea and interacted with the players.

“It is really very overwhelming to be at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. We also met the Prime Minister in the morning,” said Venkatesh Prasad, bowling coach of the cricket team.

Yuvraj Singh was also very excited at meeting the first lady and the Prime Minister.

“She appreciated our triumph and said good words while Prime Minister fondly recalled his childhood days spent in Punjab.”

An excited S Sreesanth said, “this is one of a kind experience for me. The President said ‘well done’. This is something I never expected.”

Hockey player Prabodh Tirkey said “it is a grand occasion for us and we are happy to be here.”

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