Yashpal Sharma woke up in the morning, decided to ditch his morning run due to rain, and sipped his tea. A brief while later, he took a deep breath, and just like that, a mighty figure in the history of Indian cricket left for heavenly abode.
Yashpal Sharma passed away, aged 66, after a cardiac arrest on Tuesday.
If one needs to understand Yashpal Sharma on a macro level, here is a fact. The World Cup triumph in 1983 wouldn’t have happened if not for this man from Ludhiana. As Cricket.com columnist and historian Abhishek Mukherjee penned down on Twitter, “In the 1983 World Cup, Yashpal top-scored against
- West Indies at Old Trafford (West Indies' first ever defeat in the World Cup)
- Australia at Chelmsford (must-win for India)
- England at Old Trafford (semi-final)
Remove the Zimbabwe matches, and he was India's top scorer.”
On his passing away, Indian cricket has lost a crowning jewel who epitomized the word “grit and determination” more than anyone else. When he batted, he was not the most charismatic batsman and his obvious technical limitations were laid bare even to the naked eye. But the ability to complement that with innings of substance made him such an invaluable asset in the late 70s and early 80s.
However, it is the persona for which he will be remembered the most for. Always laden with a smile, Sharma never let down his boyish sense of charm, which was a complete contrast to his serious demeanor on the field. In May 2019, I sent him a message for a few quotes on the Indian cricket team’s No.4 musical chair ahead of the 2019 World Cup campaign. Due to his association with another news channel as an analyst, he couldn’t honor my request but made it a point to ring me up to explain his situation.
He didn’t need to, but he did. That was the generosity of his being. We spoke a couple of times after that and he was always gracious with his time and never forgot to wear a smile.
Unlike Kapil Dev, he couldn’t hit the ball with brute force. Unlike Sunil Gavaskar, he didn’t have silken beauty. Unlike Ravi Shastri, he didn’t have a beaming presence. But his sturdy presence coupled with the inherent ability to maximize his own strengths culminated with arguably the most beautiful shot of that World Cup. Bob Willis was stunned as Yashpal flicked the English captain over backward square leg for a nonchalant six just after stepping down the track to hit Paul Allott over long-on.
But Yashpal was a man of substance, less of style. He ensured his mortal contribution would give more joy to Indian fans than any sixes would.
India were already down to 50/2 with openers Sunil Gavaskar and Krishnamachari Srikkanth back in the hut. It needed someone to stand up to the occasion and it was invariably Sharma who did it. A 92-run partnership for the third wicket with Mohindar Amarnath was followed by a 63-run partnership with Sandeep Patil that helped India set up the final date with the mighty Windies. Talk about impact.
To give it a more modern-day context, he was more of a Cheteshwar Pujara than Virat Kohli. He could bore the bowling attacks to death and could patiently wait for a rank bad ball to dispatch them for a boundary. The contrast was visible in the Chennai Test of 1981-82 when he shared a world record stand with stylish GR Viswanath. The duo regaled comfortably, leaving the English attack at an unfathomable edge.
“We batted the whole day. I cannot forget that innings because I never expected myself to bat for the whole day in Test cricket because of my temperament. The two of us played and had a massive partnership. Yashpal was a very good cricketer, a very good fielder, and a team man to the core,” Viswanath told Sportstar after the sad news arrived on Tuesday morning.
“It was sort of a bouncy wicket and we lost the openers early. Once Dilip (Vengsarkar) was retired hurt, we had to settle down and take it from there. Both of us had talked about how to go ahead. The idea was to stick around for a couple of hours and probably pitch will be easy and the England bowlers (like Ian Botham, Bob Willis) will be tired. We had to ensure that we did not lose any more wickets. We never expected to play the whole day, but we could hang in there and played our shots. Yashpal too played a magnificent and an authoritative innings,” the Karnataka man added.
These two innings epitomized Yashpal’s class and irrefutable vigor. Indian Cricket loved him for what he brought to the table and he continued to be a servant till his last breath. A legacy that stood on strong-willed determination left for the heavenly abode just as peacefully as it caressed the ball. That touch will be missed, Yashpal Ji!