Yashpal Sharma: A batsman of immense resilience, a man of few words

Yashpal Sharma never failed to remind his friends the importance of fitness and good eating habits. He also never indulged.

Yashpal Sharma (centre), Mohinder Amarnath (left) and Balwinder Singh Sandhu celebrate India's win against Australia in the 1983 World Cup.   -  The Hindu

They loved calling him “gutsy” and “solid” at the crease. But Yashpal Sharma did not appreciate it one bit. He maintained, “I can also play shots and I can score at a faster pace. But I am often assigned a role which I stick to. If that means I have to go and sleep at the crease, I don't mind. I have to play for my team. Simple. But I have been more than just gutsy.”

We had countless conversations around his batting and his relevance to the scheme of things. And Yashpal always came across a cricketer who did not seem happy being referred to as just “gutsy.” He was particularly angry at being denied recognition for his contributions at the World Cup. He made friends reluctantly but once he did, there was no better person than Yashpal to look up to.

READ: Yashpal Sharma, 1983 World Cup winning cricketer, passes away

His death left some of his 1983 teammates shocked, some in tears, some just speechless. “I don’t know what to say. I am speechless,” said Kapil Dev. In fact, Kapil refused to believe that Yashpal was no more when Sunil Valson broke the news to him. “What? Are you sure?” Kapil would not share the news in the Whatsapp group of the 1983 World Cup winning team. It needed Kirti Azad to inform his teammates of the sad development.

Fittest of the group

Madan Lal, emotionally attached to Yashpal, struggled. “What to say? Younger than me, he was one of his kind. Ever willing to walk the path alone, he never gave up. Why did he give up now? Unbelievable. He was the fittest among us, a teetotaller, highly disciplined."

Yashpal  was indeed the fittest of the group. “You know. I walk daily. I do my exercises daily. I eat light but healthy food,” he said when we spoke recently. Yashpal was happy that he had organised education for his son in England. “I can relax now. I have made my best investment in his education,” he said on his return from England in June.

Indian cricketer Yashpal Sharma with his parents and brother in New Delhi on August 16, 1980.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

A middle-order batsman of immense resilience, Yashpal was a man of few words. “I love to listen. It doesn’t cost,” he would joke. Yashpal, however, nursed a feeling of insecurity and that reflected in his batting too. He would concentrate hard on his first 25 runs. He took extra care not to lose his wicket early. “I never had a godfather and had to strive to keep my place.” So, Yashpal would bat in phases - cautious, extra cautious and then liberated. You could divide his innings into different parts depending on the pace of scoring.

READ: Gundappa Viswanath remembers ‘gritty cricketer’ Yashpal Sharma

I often reminded him of that century at Delhi against Australia in 1979. “Most critical innings of my career,” was his response. Yashpal had collected a `pair’ in the preceding Test at Kanpur and was obviously under pressure. In nine innings since his debut at Lord’s, he had just one half century to his name. He was haunted by that sense of insecurity. He dropped anchor and forgot to play shots. “I knew I was getting into a shell but I knew I would lose my place if I did not make runs.” Yashpal crawled to his first fifty and then went berserk, picking on leg-spinner Jim Higgs, smashing him for a few sixes to herald his first Test century.

Playing his shots

Yashpal learned to play his shots from that stage. He was not the most attractive of batsmen but he was the most reliable in the middle order. A batsman who made the bowlers earn his wicket. Why did he feel insecure? “I don’t know. I always felt I was a loner in the team. I had to always fight for my place.” Always? Even in the State Bank of India team?

Zeeshan Mohammad, a teammate at SBI and friend of Yashpal for more than two decades, remembered him as a helpful person. “He would organise nets and refreshments for us. Conduct coaching classes for the team members and never showed airs of an international cricketer. He loved the tea-biscuit that we had the most and was always available for our league matches. His presence was such a motivation. He often said the SBI job was his bread and butter,” said Zeeshan. Later, Yashpal had to quit the job when he was transferred to Haldwani. “There was no cricket there,” was his lament.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi greets Yashpal Sharma at a reception ceremony after India's World Cup win in 1983.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

M.P. Pandove was his mentor at Punjab. “He came to me as a teenager from Ludhiana and within two years was playing first-class cricket. He was a compact, complete batsman, with a very good temperament. He was also very respectful to seniors and would never fail to touch your feet even after he had become an international cricketer,” remembered Pandove.

Yashpal was a brilliant stroke player who often had to curb his shots. He was strong off his legs and played the cover drive with great style. His defence was organised and importantly he never flinched from short pitched bowling. He could play the hook and pull to make an impression on the bowlers and backed his batting with some outstanding fielding.

The Badaam shot

For Kirti Azad, his longtime friend, two memories made up Yashpal’s career. “His innings of 89 in the opening match against the West Indies at Manchester was a lesson in craftsmanship. It opened the gateway for us to the World Cup. And then the knock against England in the semifinals, that swinging six off (Bob) WIllis. And of course the run out of Allan Lamb when Yashpal ran him out with a direct hit to the far end from a good 30 yards at short fine leg. Yashpal was a kind soul. I can never forget his knack for organising vegetarian food for us on overseas tours.”

Yashpal Sharma was a national selector. In the picture, he is seen with the chairman of the committee Krishnamachari Srikkanth and the then India captain M.S. Dhoni.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Among Yashpal’s roommates was Kiran More, who had some fond memories too. “I was fortunate really because he was good at guiding youngsters. He would make me sleep early and rise early. He would recite his prayers and treat me to a small helping of dry fruits. He used to carry almonds, give me four and keep four to himself. He would tell me that almonds were good for building strength.” And Yashpal was so good at producing the big hits, famously known as “badaam (almond)”shots among his teammates.

We would meet at the Press Club. “I will buy you just one drink. I don’t want to spoil you Raje,” he would warn. Raje was his preferred word for expressing affection. Other times, our meetings would be at restaurants where he would love “coffee.” He was keen that I should draft his retirement letter and the announcement was made at a small restaurant in east Delhi with a handful of journalists in attendance. Yashpal was very finicky of the food he ate and the company he needed off the field.

Yashpal represented Punjab, Haryana and Railways and took up roles as an umpire, selector and media expert after giving up active cricket in 1992, falling to Narendra Hirwani of Madhya Pradesh in both the innings of his farewell match at the Palam ground, signing off with a 56 off 63 balls that had five fours and three sixes. Not “just a gutsy” but a “strokeful” knock against an opposition that was led by his World Cup teammate Sandeep Patil.

Yashpal never failed to remind his friends the importance of fitness and good eating habits. He also never indulged. He was excited about the '83' movie and the Opus book in the making of that epic triumph. A pity that the fittest member of that grand team returned from his morning walk and collapsed at home. Yashpal left us too early. He was 66.

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