Ritesh Misra, Surat, 11 November 2023
Yashpal Sharma was accepted as the fittest cricketer in the 1983 world cup winning cricket team, fondly referred to as Kapil’s Devils. We won the 1983 world cup against the mighty West Indians. This win ushered in a cricketing revolution in the country. As informed to the media by his good friend, Dilip Vengsarkar (one of our best batsmen ever and an indulgent elder brother to me), Yashpal Ji used to have soup for dinner and used to take long walks in the morning. He was a teetotaller and a vegetarian.
Sadly, on 13th July, 2021, he was the first amongst our world champions to depart from mother earth. A massive heart attack took life away from this fighter.
Yashpal Bhai will always be remembered as a fighting cricketer. Sunny Bhai had nicknamed him “the crisis man for India”.
This gutsy cricketer first came on to the National scene in the Duleep Trophy final by scoring 173 for North Zone versus South Zone, which had an attack led by the three greats, Prasanna, Venkat and Chandra. He had a prolific first class career and played for three domestic teams, Punjab, Haryana, and Railways. He amassed 8933 runs with 21 tons and 46 50s with a highest score of 201 not out, which was versus Victoria in Australia. He played 37 Tests in which he scored 1606 runs with 2 tons and 9 50s. He played 42 ODIs and played some crucial knocks. He was highest scorer in three 1983 world cup matches, including the semifinal versus England, the must-win match versus Australia, and the opening match versus West Indies.
There is a history to this Duleep Trophy match, which earned him national attention. A couple of years prior to this, Yashpal had played a Ranji match against Punjab in which he scored hundreds in both innings. Legendary actor Dilip Kumar had seen that match and had told him that his temperament was good and he will speak to someone about him. That someone was none other than veteran cricket administrator Raj Singh Dungarpur, popularly known as Raj Bhai. Much later, in 1978, Raj Bhai told Yashpal Ji that Dilip Kumar had told him about his talent and temperament!
Yashpal Bhai’s highest ODI score of 89 was in the first India-West Indies League match at Old Trafford. As his close friend Kirti Azad Ji says, “He set the agenda for the tournament with that innings“. Sadly, though BBC had shared the footage of this knock, it was destroyed in a fire in Doordarshan, and it was lost to all, including Yashpal Ji and that remained a lasting regret for him.
There are two everlasting memories of the 1983 world cup semifinal. One was the run-out of a well set Allan Lamb for 29. As Kirti Azad said, “He used to say he loved playing marbles, that was why he was so good at it”. The other was the six off Bob Willis. Yashpal Bhai in an interview laughingly said, “I never practiced that. It just happened on impulse. I covered the stumps to have better access to the ball but Willis speared the ball towards my stumps and I just reacted to it. I never played that shot again”.
This gutsy cricketer had a “great sense of humour and always brought joy to the dressing room”. These are the exact words of legendary bowler Dilip Doshi in his official Instagram handle. Dilip Bhai has called him one of the gutsiest batsmen to play for India and a thoroughbred team man and has said that he shared many laughs over the years as a team mate of long standing.
After his playing days were over, Yashpal Bhai continued to be active and associated with the sport. He was an umpire and has officiated in Women’s ODIs. He has coached the UP Ranji team. He was selector twice, once during the Saurav Ganguly-Greg Chappell spat and once with his world-cup winning teammate Srikanth for the 2011 world cup winning team led by M.S. Dhoni. His nephew Chetan Sharma played for India and is a former Chairman of the Selection Committee.
Yashpal Bhai along with Chetan Chauhan had an inspiring heroic role in saving teammates during the Delhi riots. They asked Navjot Singh Sidhu, Rajinder Ghai and Yograj Singh to hide in the compartment, confronted the rioters, and asked them to vacate the compartment. Humanity will remember them always for this.
Recently a party was hosted by Kapil Dev for the 1983 boys to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the world cup triumph. There were two absentees, Ravi Shastri who was on commentary duty in England, and Yashpal Sharma. All the cricketers paid homage to Yashpal Bhai and remembered him fondly. Kirti Azad and Sandeep Patil kissed his photograph, while Srikanth looked upwards and had a conversation with him. Actor Jatin Sarna who played Yashpal Bhai in the 1983 movie spoke about him, and he and Jimmy Amarnath enacted their real-life conversation, which they had had in the world cup while batting for team India, and before Yashpal Bhai hit Bob Willis for that priceless six.
Yashpal Bhai is survived by his wife Renu, son Chirag, daughters Pooja and Preeti. His family is well settled. Chirag is educated in England, one daughter is a doctor and the other is also well settled in USA.
I would like to conclude with his good friend Dilip Vengsarkar’s fond memory of him. “Against Asif Iqbal’s team, we were on the verge of losing the test but after a good partnership with him, we ended up almost winning the test”. While Dilip Bhai scored 146 not out, Yaspal Bhai scored a gritty 60. Dilip Bhai says ,”Yashpal played the game very hard. He put a price on his wicket. He was our Mr. Consistent throughout the world cup and was a brilliant fielder”.
Remembering you fondly Bhai. I can imagine Bob Willis bowling to you right now and you repeating the 1983 world cup semifinal shot for a six! Lots of love and regards.
You remain a priceless icon of India.