Tragically former test cricketer Yashpal Sharma expired on Tuesday morning, suffering from a cardiac arrest. The cricket world mourns the death of this great servant to Indian cricket. He emboldened the spirit of the game at it’s utmost depth, with great reserves of courage and concentration.
He may not have been the most talented, but was an epitome of determination, resilience or relentless spirit, many a times pulling India out of the woods. Few batsmen of his time better illustrated how the game was not only about talent but about battling spirit or tenacity.Yashpal batted with a characteristic pugnacity or grit, always willing to undertake a challenge. He was a key figure or pillar in the middle order and part of a nucleus in making India one of the strongest batting sides in the world of the 1980’s.Most appropriately the great Sunil Gavaskar called Yashpal the man for the crisis. He was a master in playing in tune with the situation and in playing a supporting role in a great partnership.Yashpal’s tenacity was an example for youngsters to emulate. Yashpal was also a very effective ODI batsman with the ability to improvise strokes and adjust the pace of an innings in accordance to the situation required.
Yashpal stepped into the test arena relatively late after giving a series of outstanding performances in 1st class cricket. For long he was neglected by the selectors, who did not perhaps recognize the budding flowering talent of the youngster early.
He set the ball rolling in 1972 with two landmark centuries, for Punjab schools scoring 260 and then Punjab University scoring 139, in 1972.Making his debut in Ranji trophy in 1973 representing Punjab, he scored a most tenacious 60 in big 169 run partnership with Mohinder Amarnath.In 1977 Yashpal scored a match winning 173 against world class bowers of South Zone enabling North Zone to win the title. In 1979 he scored 762 runs at an average of 76.2 to be voted Indian cricketer of the year. Representing North Zone, he enabled his team to win the championship title .He even scored a century; scoring 135 against the touring West Indies., facing the likes of Malcolm Marshall and Vanburn Holder. In the 1979 Ranji trophy he scored a match-wining 89 for North Zone against a top class West Zone teammate many junctures Yashpal’s batting showed high technical skill or durability and the canny ability to improvise.
The cavalier performance against North Zone in 1979 won Yashpal a place in the Indian squad for the 1979 tour of England. When I first saw him in England although unsuccessful in tests his batting in first class matches gave me glimpses of his potential, displaying great sense of assurance and technical maturity against the moving ball. He aggregated a remarkable 884 runs at an average of 58.93.When scoring 40 in the 3rd test at Leeds he displayed his ability to withstand seamer friendly conditions, in a low scoring game.
Playing against Australia in late 1979 Yashpal averaged above 50, including an unbeaten 100. At Delhi Yashpal scored his 1st test hundred and in the subsequent test at Kolkata his fifty all but won the gem for India. Later in the same season in 1979-80, against one of the strongest Pakistani teams, he averaged above 39, scoring 3 fifties. Above all he helped India win their 1st ever series against Pakistan for 28 years. Most valiantly he stood up against the likes of Imran Khan ,Iqbal Qasim and Sikander Bhakt.
Although unsuccessful on the tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1980-81 Yashpal made a spectacular comeback against England in 1981-82, when scoring 140 at Madras. I can’t forget his 316 epic partnership with Gundappa Vishwanath.In that innings Yashpal was a virtual embodiment of patience .In 3 innings she averaged a remarkable 110 in that series.
He failed in England in 1982 .However in 1982-83 against the strongest bowling attacks in Pakistan and West Indies Yashpal displayed considerable resilience or combative spirit averaging around 35.I praise him for standing up like a boulder against a gale facing the likes of Imran.,Qadir,Marshall, Roberts, Garner and Holding.
The 1983 World cup was the most redeeming point of Yashpal Sharma’s career. In the opening match against the invincible West Indies who were twice champions he exuded death defying courage in his knock of 89.India were tottering at one stage before Yashpal launched a most valiant rearguard action to take India to a score of 262.It was his innings that steered India to a position of strength, Above all India won the game against the best ever team till then, to register its first ever world cup triumph. I regret I can’t locate a video of this landmark knock of his, which may rank amongst the best ever in an ODI against the great Calypso pace quartet. Subsequently his 40 played an important part in shaping India’s total of 248, which proved to be match-winning one. However it was the semi-final against England which was the crowing point of Yashpal’s career. On a wicket with low bounce, he paved the way or steered India home to gain a berth into the final, by chasing down a target of 214 run s for victory. In my view, it was one of the most clinical or rhythmic batting displays in a world cup semi-final playing the anchor role with perfect tune. I can’t forget how Yashpal complemented the flamboyance of Sandeep Patil .He even executed some dazzling strokes like a six over long on dancing down the pitch, and a lofted flick for six over backward square leg of Paul Allot. Eventually when he was dismissed at 61, an Indian win was virtually a foregone conclusion. In many ways that knock gave the very spirit of Indian cricket a new definition. I must also mention his classic running out of the English batsman Alan Lamb, which was major turning point in the game.
He faded after the 1983 world cup making scare impact in 1983-84 at home against Pakistan and West Indies. Sad that the test career of such a warrior of the game was brought to an abrupt end. In his test career he scored 1606 run sat an average of 33.45 with 2 centuries and 9 fifties. In ODI’s he scored 883 runs at an average of 28.48., with 4 fifties. In 1st class cricket Yashpal averaged 44.88, scoring 8933 runs.
Even if his career ended prematurely we must remember that Yashpal Sharma was one of the key figures in Indian cricket’s renaissance in the 1983 world cup, arguably the greatest turning point in history of Indian sport. What is most important was he was part of a collective and cohesive spirit, and not just a team of gifted individuals. Former Skipper Kapil Dev held him in great esteem.
After retirement most fruitfully he served Indian cricket as a coach.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Toured India, particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com. Emailfirstname.lastname@example.org