Yashpal Sharma, the Indian cricketer, who has died of a heart attack aged 66, played a notable role in his country’s triumph in the World Cup of 1983.
They arrived in England for the tournament with the odds against them carrying off the trophy at 66-1. West Indies were overwhelming favourites to win the World Cup for the third successive time. Yet on a recent tour of the Caribbean, India had given notice of their potential with victory in one of the three one-day internationals.
This, however, was dismissed as a freak result by everyone except the Indian players, and especially their captain, Kapil Dev. The Indians underscored their conviction when, in their first group match in the World Cup, at Old Trafford, they again defeated the West Indies.
This was a win which owed everything to Yashpal Sharma’s innings of 89, scored against the fearsome attack of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner.
Subsequently there were setbacks, but India eventually qualified for the semi-final by beating Australia at Chelmsford, a win in which Yashpal’s brisk top score of 40 proved a key factor.
Two days later, at Old Trafford, India crushed England by six wickets, with Yashpal’s 61 again the backbone of the batting. Particularly remembered was his flick for six off Bob Willis, an apparently effortless stroke which landed deep in the crowd at square leg. Later he confessed that he had no idea how he had done it.
Earlier in the match Yashpal – always a sharp fielder with a deadly accurate throw – had performed the essential service of running out Alan Lamb just as the batsman was beginning to look dangerous.
And so to the final at Lord’s, once more against the West Indies. This time Yashpal did not personally succeed, being dismissed for 11.
With India having mustered only 183, and Viv Richards going strong for the West Indies, it seemed there could be only one result. Then Richards mistimed a hook and Kapil Dev ran backwards 20 yards to take a brilliant and celebrated catch which changed the game. Yashpal, fielding at square leg, liked to point out that it would have been a comparatively easy catch for him.
India’s victory in the World Cup of 1983 transformed cricket in that country from a keenly followed game into a fanatical national passion.
Yashpal Sharma was born at Ludhiana, the largest city in the Punjab, on August 11 1954. His family were Brahmins, the highest caste of Hindu.
The boy grew up short – around five foot four as an adult – but not thin. If he never had the exceptional natural talent of a Gavaskar or an Amarnath, in 1972 a score of 260 for Punjab Schools against Kashmir underlined his determination and potential.
He made his first-class debut for Punjab in 1973. He did not, however, make much of a mark until 1977 when, playing for North Zone against West Zone in the semi-final of the Duleep Trophy, he hit 173 against an attack which included the great spinners Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan.
In 1978 Yashpal, along with Kapil Dev, was named one of the four Indian Cricketers of the Year, and selected for the tour of Pakistan. It was not until August 1979, however, that he made his Test debut, against England at Lord’s.
Though his best innings in the three Tests that summer was 40 at Headingley, he did exceptionally well against the counties, scoring three centuries, and finishing the tour with an average of 58.93.
By the end of 1979 Yashpal had played in 13 Tests, and had made a not-out hundred against Australia at Delhi. At the same ground in December he helped Dilip Vengsarkar save India from defeat by Pakistan with a defensive 60. With some justification Sunil Gavaskar called him “the Crisis Man for India”.
Better still, against England at Madras in January 1982, Yashpal scored 140, sharing in a record third-wicket stand of 316 with Gundappa Viswanath. They batted together throughout an entire day, allowing India to declare at 481 for four.
After that, however, Yashpal’s form in Tests fell off, notwithstanding some useful innings in the West Indies before India’s World Cup triumph. He played his last Test in October 1983, and despite the later disappointments, finished his spell in the Indian side with a total of 1,606 runs at a respectable average of 33.45.
India lost only five of the 37 Tests in which he took part. On the other hand, only five of these matches were won, the other 27 being drawn, often boringly.
In 42 ODIs between 1978 and 1985 Yashpal made 883 runs at an average of 28.48. Notwithstanding the triumph in the World Cup of 1983, India won only 17 of ODIs in which he played.
Yashpal continued to score highly in the Ranji Trophy, averaging 90 for Haryana in 1988-89 and 61 for Railways in 1990-91, before retiring in 1992. In 160 first-class matches he had accumulated 8,933 runs at an average of 44.88. His highest innings was 201 not out against Victoria, during the Indian tour of Australia in 1981.
He was also an occasional medium-pace bowler and could be called upon to keep wicket.
At all times Yashpal Sharma managed to be both ultra-competitive and jolly, albeit as a vegetarian and a teetotaller.
After retiring as a player he remained closely involved in the game as an Indian selector, serving for two spells, 2003 to 2006, and 2008 to 2011. Like so Indian cricketers he had his differences with Greg Chappell, the brilliant Australian batsman who was a controversial coach of the Indian team between 2005 and 2007.
Yashpal Sharma was especially proud to have been on the committee which first picked Mahendra Dhoni for international duty, on the tour of Bangladesh in 2004-05.
Subsequently, under Dhoni’s captaincy, India would win the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007, the Asia Cup in 2010 and 2016 and the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013. Best of all, Dhoni’s side carried off the World Cup in 2011, for the first time since the triumph of 1983.
His nephew Chetan Sharma, a fast bowler, played in 23 Tests for India, and at the end of 2020 was appointed chairman of the Indian selectors.
A Bollywood film, 83, about India’s World Cup triumph, with Yashpal played by Jatin Sarna, was due for release in 2020 but was delayed by the Covid pandemic.
Yashpal Sharma and his wife Renu had two daughters and a son.
Yashpal Sharma, born August 11 1954, died July 13 2021