New Delhi: News of Indian cricketing legend Yashpal Sharma’s passing away from a heart attack has come as a massive shock to me. I had met him just over two weeks ago and he looked as dapper as ever.
This was on 25 June at the launch event of the ‘1983 World Cup Opus’ book in Gurugram, which not only marked the 38th anniversary of India’s historic win but also served as a reunion for most of the squad.
At the Opus event in Delhi with the 1983 World Cup winning team members. Missing Gavaskar and Shastri (in England for Test series) and Srikkanth (in Chennai for personal reasons) pic.twitter.com/edOyNoeU65
— Cricketwallah (@cricketwallah) June 25, 2021
Yashpal Sharma made his name playing for Punjab at the domestic level before making the step up to the Indian national team in October 1978. He made his debut in an ODI away to Pakistan at Sialkot.
His Test and ODI debuts came under the captaincy of Bishan Singh Bedi and Srinivas Venkataraghavan respectively, but it was under Sunil Gavaskar, and later Kapil Dev, that Yashpal Sharma truly came into his own as a pugnacious middle-order batsman.
A contribution forgotten
In the extraordinary David versus Goliath story of India’s 1983 World Cup win, Yashpal Sharma’s contributions in that tournament are often overshadowed by those of his peers. It should be noted that it was his score of 89 against the defending champions West Indies, which was crucial to India winning its opening game.
He had stood up to a world-class bowling attack consisting of Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, and Michael Holding, which gave the team self-belief and ambition.
I especially remember his innings of 61 against England in the semi-final, as he guided two match-saving partnerships with Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil and deposited Bob Willis’ bowling into the square leg stand with a rousing six.
Although he played over 40 ODIs and was a mainstay in the team for much of that period, he remained a lesser star in the eyes of Indian cricket fans compared to others in the squad.
But whatever Yashpal Sharma seemingly lacked in finesse and style, he made up for with character and gumption. He was a hardy cricketer and approached his game and cricketing career in a refreshingly gung-ho fashion. While he wasn’t the team prankster like Sandeep Patil or Kirti Azad, he was a lively presence in the dressing room.
Cricketer from Punjab
Born in Ludhiana on 11 August 1954, Yashpal hailed from a small place and grew up and played his cricket at a time when Punjab wasn’t a state that produced many high-quality cricketers for the national team. But Yashpal was different and put Punjab on the world cricketing map with his performances at the domestic and international levels.
A gutsy, big-hearted cricketer, Yashpal Sharma should not just be celebrated for his on-field performances and World Cup heroics but also for how he was as a person. When we last met at the reunion, he spoke passionately about the welfare of India’s domestic cricketers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He repeatedly mentioned that an organisation as rich as the BCCI should compensate domestic cricketers who had lost livelihood for more than a year because of the pandemic. “If we international cricketers, present and past, don’t raise our voice for this, who will?” he asked, which showed the kind of person he was.
May he rest in peace.
(As told to Raghav Bikhchandani)