Yashpal Sharma, the quiet hero of India’s 1983 World Cup triumph, dies

  • He will be remembered though as a key member of Kapil Dev’s India that rocked the cricket world by toppling Clive Lloyd’s nearly indomitable West Indies in the Lord’s final, denying them title hat-trick and starting a new chapter in world cricket.
Yashpal Sharma(Twitter)
Yashpal Sharma(Twitter)
Published on Jul 13, 2021 07:14 PM IST
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By N Ananthanarayanan, New Delhi

“Kapil’s Devils” will sadly be one member short from now on. Yashpal Sharma, one of the quiet heroes of India’s historic 1983 World Cup triumph in England, died on Tuesday following a cardiac arrest. He was 66.

A middle-order batsman, Sharma played 37 Tests and 42 ODIs, between 1978 and 1985. His solid first-class career contained 8,933 runs, with 21 hundreds and 46 fifties. The Ludhiana-born batsman and part-time wicket-keeper played for Punjab, Haryana and Railways.

He will be remembered though as a key member of Kapil Dev’s India that rocked the cricket world by toppling Clive Lloyd’s nearly indomitable West Indies in the Lord’s final, denying them title hat-trick and starting a new chapter in world cricket.

Mention the 1983 World Cup campaigns and the images that spring to mind are Kapil’s 175* against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells and his running catch to dismiss Viv Richards in the final; Balwinder Sandhu’s banana in-swinger to bowl Gordon Greenidge; Mohinder Amarnath’s all-round heroics, or K Srikkanth’s square drive off Andy Roberts in the final.

It was Sharma though who lit the spark. His top-score of 89 was crucial in the upset of West Indies in India's first group match at Old Trafford. Though India lost the return game, that win gave the belief that Lloyd’s side was beatable.

Old Trafford was the scene of Sharma’s heroics in the semi-finals too, this time to beat England. He again top-scored with 61, and a crucial partnership with Sandeep Patil (51*) took India to a four-wicket win. He was also one of the sharpest fielders in that side, his outstanding work in the covers capped by a direct run out of Allan Lamb.

Yashpal came into national reckoning in 1977 with a match-winning 173 for North Zone in the Duleep Trophy final, highlighting his dominance of South’s India spin stalwarts Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

He scored two Test centuries, 100* against Australia in Delhi in 1979, his debut year. The other, 140, came in a 316-run stand with GR Viswanath, who hit an India Test record 222, against England in Chennai in 1982. His only Test wicket was Desmond Haynes, caught by Ravi Shastri in the Antigua Test of 1983. David Gower was his sole ODI scalp, caught by Dilip Vengsarkar, at Oval in 1982.

On Tuesday, his former teammates were distraught, describing Sharma as a gritty cricketer, and one of the fittest among them.

“It is very difficult to believe,” former skipper Vengsarkar said. “We met hardly 10 days ago in Delhi (at a function for the 1983 World Cup team). He looked the fittest of the lot. He was a teetotaler and a fitness freak. I asked him how he kept himself fit and he told me “in the evening I only drink soup”.”

Vengsarkar recalled his match-saving partnership (122 for the fourth wicket) with Sharma in the second innings of the 1979 Delhi Test against Pakistan. Vengsarkar hit 146* and Sharma 60. “We were on the verge of losing the Test on the fifth morning (India were 126 all out in the first innings after pacer Sikander Bakt’s eight wickets). We almost won the match but Yashpal got out and we lost wickets and drew the shutters.

“He was a very dogged player, determined and could shift gears when needed as he was a good hitter also. He was physically strong, a very good fielder and a very good team man.”

Syed Kirmani, who was adjudged the best wicket-keeper at the 1983 World Cup, was in disbelief as he had been due to interview Sharma for his YouTube channel on Tuesday evening. “It broke my heart when I got to know of his death from our World Cup (Whatsapp) group,” he said. “My fondest memory of Yash is the reception he got in the (Old Trafford) dressing room after his 61 against England (India chased 213). I will never forget two things—the six he hit over fine-leg off Bob Willis moving across his stumps, nothing short of a T20 shot; and the direct throw at the bowler’s end to run out Lamb.”

Sandhu recalled their last meeting. “Absolutely shocking news, he was worried about my health when we met for a book launch on June 25th. I can’t believe my room partner (during the 1983 World Cup) is no more. He used to make tea for us,” he said. “He was in good health, in good spirits. We were cracking jokes, pulling each other’s leg.”

The former India pacer recalled Sharma’s qualities as a team man, his ability to hold one end up and build partnerships to let stroke-makers play their shots, and then produce big hits when needed.

Sandhu pointed to how close they were. “Even in the making of the movie “1983”, I gave a lot of inputs to the actor playing him because he was my room partner, how he looked then, body language, how he played his shots, after hitting how he would react."

Sharma was national selector twice—in 2004-5 and 2008-11. He was also a first-class umpire and match referee and a part of the Delhi cricket association’s cricket advisory committee.

Sharma is survived by his wife, two daughters and son.

(Inputs from Sanjjev K Samyal, Somshuvra Laha)

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021