A friend in need? Ajit Wadekar gave him an apt name. “Tour father.” This elderly gentleman, Leo Wijesinghe, was the ‘Sri Lankan friend’ for every member of the Indian touring party, whether cricketers or journalists. If there was any problem, Wadekar would look for Leo. Indian food? No sweat. Leo would organize some excellent stuff for the cricketers. Is shopping to be done? Leo was at hand to take the ‘boys’ out.
Leo Wijesinghe is an encyclopedia on Sri Lankan cricket. His knowledge of cricket in India, too, is amazing. He keeps in touch through newspapers, radio, and The Sportstar. Having played cricket and served the Sri Lankan Board as an official for a long time, Leo was of great help when it came to collecting information on Sri Lankan cricket.
Another friend of the Indian cricketers was Harold de Andrado. A freelance journalist for more than four decades, Harold’s claim to fame is his close friendship with a lot of Australian cricketers, the most prominent being Sir Donald Bradman.
The great Don still keeps in touch with Harold, and the Sri Lankan proudly pulls out a letter from his Australian friend, written as late as June. “I have a collection of more than 500 letters from Bradman,” Harold says. Probably only Rusi Modi could have had as many letters from Bradman.
For both Leo and Harold, the only love in life is cricket. They would talk about the game for hours and hours. Both were pained that the series between India and Sri Lanka witnessed so much acrimony on the field. As Leo would often say, “Cricket should bring people together. My best friends are Indians, and I am indebted to cricket for this.”
Leo Wijesinghe and Ajit Wadekar met in the 1960s when the latter went to Sri Lanka on a tour with the State Bank of India team. That was the beginning of a friendship that grew with time. “It is people like Leo who really act as ambassadors of their country, said Wadekar. The Indian cricket manager, in fact, was keen to have Leo as the liaison man for the tour. The Lankan Board had already taken a decision regarding this, but it did not really matter, for Leo was always with the Indian cricketers.
Sunny Gavaskar remembers both Leo and Harold with warmth. When the Indian maestro first went to Sri Lanka as a university cricketer, these two gentlemen were at hand to help him. Harold, in fact, had predicted that Gavaskar would be the man to watch. That was even before Gavaskar had made his first tour. What followed was history as Sunil Gavaskar hammered the West Indians.
Leo Wijesinghe and Harold are excellent examples of how cricket can help people make friends. “I have never thought of Leo as a Sri Lankan. To me, he is like an elder brother,” Wadekar said with a lot of emotion. Equally warm was Sunil Gavaskar when Leo and Harold met him. As an acknowledgment of their friendship and their selfless support, Sunny Gavaskar has written off both Leo and Harold in glowing terms in his first book, Sunny Days. “When I write my next book, you’ll find their names,” says Wadekar with a smile.