They were swatted away by South Africa, and let slip a winning position against Pakistan, but Sri Lanka still gained more from the Champions Trophy than some other teams would have. That, in any case, is the conclusion head coach Graham Ford drew from a campaign in which Sri Lanka glittered in patches, though not quite for long enough to earn a place in the semi-finals.

This optimism largely stems, of course, from the seven-wicket win against India, whose 321 for 6 Sri Lanka ran down with relative ease. Ford felt the top order's modest showings in the other games were down to inexperience - Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Mendis, Danushka Gunathilaka and Asela Gunaratne having played fewer than 30 ODIs.

"If you look at the number of caps in the India side, and the number of caps in ours, we're vastly inexperienced, yet we outplayed them completely," Ford said. "I do feel that with inexperience, we're not going to get those performances every day of the week. We are going to have disappointments. But as time goes by - some of our players have played 20-odd, or fewer than 20 ODIs - and they get to 80, 90, 100 ODIs, these guys are going to win us a lot of games. That win was against the team everyone is talking about being favourites to win the tournament."

Ford believed that the loss against Pakistan, too, was not without its positives. Sri Lanka squandered a good chance to move to the semi-final with some horrendous catching at the back end. But Ford said that to even get to a stage where Sri Lanka looked like defending 237 required substantial resolve from the bowlers.

"The game against Pakistan, unfortunately we didn't play very well. But look at the attitude and the fight we showed - South Africa lost their game, and they just disappeared. We looked out of that game when Pakistan were 76 (they were 74) without loss chasing a moderate total, and somehow our boys found a way to fight back and get us into a winning position.

"The character that these guys continue to show is really exciting. If we get a bit of experience among the younger players and we continue to keep that fight - that kind of spirit is really important if we're going to build and become a highly competitive team. We were trying to win, but I think there are other teams going back from the Champions Trophy with far less positives and far less to really get excited about than we have."

Although Sri Lanka dropped at least five catches through their campaign, Ford said improvements had been made on the fielding front. Fielding had, in fact, been a particular area of focus during the pre-tournament training camp at Pallekele - a result of having lost several matches, across formats, due to poor catching over the last two years.

"The public probably don't realise just how determined these guys are to try and improve," Ford said. "Unfortunately our fielding let us down against Pakistan, but we started to look like a side that can field. I've always said it's going to take time before we become a fielding unit that the rest of the world talks about. But there's no doubt that there's been an improvement in that area."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando