Unsung hero of 1983 win, Yashpal Sharma's death saddens former teammates

Last updated on July 13, 2021 at 09.34 pm

Yashpal Sharma’s numbers in international cricket -- 1606 runs from 37 Test matches at 33.45 with two hundreds and 883 runs from 42 one-day internationals – would never find a prominent place in the annals of the sport.

But the record books containing cold numbers would also fail to appreciate Sharma’s indomitable spirit, which laid the foundations for India’s 1983 World Cup triumph.

Sharma, who died of a heart attack at the age of 66 on Tuesday, was an unsung hero who fought valiantly against the fast bowling giants in the early 1980s.

It was his magnificent 89 against Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts that set the tone for India’s opening win against West Indies in the 1983 World Cup.

Then in the do-or-die group game against Australia, Sharma played another fine innings (40), helping India clinch the semifinal spot before producing a match-winning knock of 61 against England in the last four stage.

Sharma’s untimely death on Tuesday left his 1983 teammates in a state of shock.

“It’s unbelievable for all of us today that he is no more. I met him only about two weeks ago at an event featuring the 1983 World Cup team. He was the fittest of the lot when I saw him that day,” Dilip Vengsarkar told Khaleej Times.

The former Indian captain also remembered his brilliant partnership with Sharma that almost helped India chase down an improbable target of 390 in a Test match against Pakistan.

“I had many memorable partnerships with him. I especially remember the big partnership we had during the 1979 Pakistan series in India,” Vengsarkar said.

“It was in the Delhi Test match. We had to chase around 390. We fell short by a few runs. Yashpal made 60 and I made 146 not out. We lost a few wickets so we had to eventually play for a draw.”

Vengsarkar said he was completely devastated by the news.

“He was such a nice and simple human being. Today is an extremely sad day for us. It’s unbelievable. Today it proved again that life is so unpredictable.”

Echoing Vengsarkar’s sentiments, Kirti Azad, one of the key members of the legendary 1983 team, said his old friend didn’t even give anyone a chance to take him to the hospital.

“It was raining, so he said he won’t go for a walk. And after sometime he took a deep breath, and he was gone,” Azad told Khaleej Times.

“He never gave anybody an opportunity. You know he was clean bowled by God. I mean if somebody plays up in the air, there is a chance that the fielder might drop it, you know, if he had given that kind of a chance, we could have taken him to the hospital. But he didn’t give anybody a chance. He just left.”

Azad revealed how the WhatsApp group of the 1983 team was engulfed in silence on Tuesday.

“I don’t think I can really express myself, the bonding that we had, the 1983 team. Everyone is shocked. We have a WhatsApp group, I mean nobody’s messages have come expect from Mr Sunil Gavaskar who was in England and he saw it late,” Azad said.

“You know he was fighter to the core. He had set the agenda in the 1983 World Cup in the first game that we played against the West Indies, they had the mighty, dreaded quartet of fast bowlers.

“There he scored a brilliant 89, setting the agenda, beating the best team in the world. That was it.”

Sharma, who later served Indian cricket as a national selector, was also a brilliant fielder.

“Now people talk about Ravindra Jadeja hitting stumps with direct throws. But we had a Yashpal Sharma who used to do that with monotonous regularity,” Azad said.

“I remember the run out in the semifinal. England were going great guns at 96 for two in 16 overs, six runs an over during those days was huge.

“Then Mohinder Amarnath and I bowled. Then there was this brilliant run out, he threw from short fine leg and ran the batsman (Allan Lamb) out, which helped us get back into the match. So he was always looking for an opportunity to do something for the team.”

Vijay Lokapally, one of India’s most respected cricket writers, said Sharma was a man of crisis in Indian cricket.

“As a batsman, Yash was the captain’s first choice to tackle a crisis. He was equipped with tremendous temperament and he never shied away from a competition,” Lokapally said.

“His technique against fast bowlers was built on hard work and ultimately helped him come up with some fantastic knocks. My favourite was the 89 against the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup opener. I will miss our daily exchanges over WhatsApp and some lovely time spent together over four decades.”

Rituraj Borkakoty A big fan of the Argentina national football team, Rituraj generally writes on sports. But he deeply cherishes the time he spent with his favourite musician from Assam, India, for an interview. And he loves to bring human interest stories to Khaleej Times readers.