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Friday, July 30, 2021

Yashpal Sharma: ‘Gutsy, improviser, and a crisis man’

Yashpal Sharma was also a national selector for three years from 2003 and supported Sourav Ganguly over the fracas with the coach Greg Chappell, and was instrumental in the international comeback of Ganguly.

Written by Sriram Veera | Mumbai |
Updated: July 14, 2021 8:05:07 am
Yashpal SharmaYashpal Sharma plays a shot. (Image tweeted by Ravi Shastri)

Dilip Vengsarkar’s voice turns into a purr when asked about that 38-summers-old shot from Yashpal Sharma, who succumbed to heart attack on Tuesday. “Oh yes, kya maara tha. That too Bob Willis ko,”. Sometimes, a solitary shot gets tattooed in a generation’s psyche. Its creator might or might not do much else in his sporting career, but that single shot of expresso lingers long enough to remember and even be grateful for. Yashpal, as Vengsarkar stresses, has stitched more than enough moments to savour, but for a particular vintage he will be forever associated with one of the most audacious sixes ever walloped by an Indian batsman.

It was the semi-final of the ’83 world cup and match hung in balance when the much-feared Bob Willis charged in with his signature curl of a run-up. Yashpal had anchored the recovery job along with Mohinder Amarnath in the chase of 214 but both had been a touch slow, or so their team thought. Yashpal once told a lovely story about how when they entered the dressing room at tea – 60-over ODIs had tea breaks then – but the room had emptied out. The two gulped their chai, understood the noise behind the silence, and stormed out. It’s then that Yashpal would unfurl two memorable sixes of ‘hum-bhi-jeetne-hi-aayen-hai’ strikes. The first was a laughter-triggering unadulterated slog off Paul Allott – he shuffled outside leg stump and carved it with an abandon of a kid at a sunday park game. But the ball would incredibly fly over long-off. The next six was the real deal for it could easily fit into any collection of all-time classic great ODI hits.

Even as Willis was about to release the first ball of his new spell, Yashpal shuffled to the off this time and picked the full-length ball on the off-and-middle stump and flung it over long-leg in one fluid motion for an astonishing six that had the normally lugubrious commentator, the former England spinner Jim Laker coo: “great shot, a magnificent shot”.

The more famous version of it had come four years ago in the ’79 world cup final from the king Viv himself off Mike Hendrick off the final ball of West Indies innings. A casual shuffle, a dismissive swing, an imperious smile and off he ran to the pavilion. Yet, it can be confidently declared without any trace of parochialism that Yashpal’s was a better shot for Richards’s whiplash had come off a full toss. It was to leave an impact on Yashpal, though.

“It was dangerous to hit fast bowlers over long-off, so I wanted a shot where I could use the pace of the bowler,” Yashpal would later tell this newspaper. “Then I remembered Vivian Richards flicking the ball off his legs at the 1979 World Cup. That was the basic idea, and I started using my improvised variation in the nets. I even hit on my body a few times, but developed a fair judgment as to which deliveries I could play that shot on. It was purely instinctive … That shot turned the game. I got a lot of confidence, and the England team looked shattered.”

Vengsarkar concurs. “He was a very good improviser. But the best thing about him was that he could play the situation really well: attack or defend, he could do both.” Like Yashpal did with a 140, batting out a whole day and more with Gundappa Vishwanath in a 316-run partnership in a drawn Test against England in Chennai in 1982. Or how he nearly pulled off an improbable win against Pakistan along with the centurion Vengsarkar in 1979. Set 394 to win, India were 308 for 4 at one stage but Vengsarkar (146*) had to pull down the shutter after wickets fell and India ended at 364 for 6. The pair had added 122 runs with Yashpal making 60.

“No one had given us a chance on 5th day but we nearly won it. He was gutsy and extremely positive, and we kept going for it until he fell and it turned into a draw. I remember that partnership fondly.”

No wonder Sunil Gavaskar had termed him the “crisis man”. Very true, says Vengsarkar. “A man for crisis. As a team mate you knew he will put up a fight against any attack in the world. He was very good fielder too.”

Vengsarkar last saw him a few days back at a gathering of the 1983 world cup team. “He was the fittest of us. Even after all these years. A vegetarian and a teetotaller; I was shocked to hear the bad news. Couldn’t believe it. I had even told him in our last meeting that you are still the fittest. Sad times.”

The vegetarianism brings a gentle laugh in Vengsarkar. “In the 70s, it wasn’t easy to find vegetarian food in Australia and England but Yashpal was a popular character and had his friends everywhere. A special lunch box would appear everyday for him during match days!”.

Another teammate, a roommate on the ’79 tour of England, Anshuman Gaekwad, the former India opener, tells a hilarious story about Yashpal’s pronunciation that could confuse people.

” It was a West zone vs North zone game in Duleep Trophy and he wasn’t feeling too well while batting on a hot day. He was throwing up. And I asked him., Arre kya ho gaya Yash? (What happened?) And he said, ‘STD ho gaya ! And I told him, ‘STD nahi, acidity!’ ” Gaekwad tells this newspaper.

“I used to lovingly call him JB no.1 (Jatt budhi). No.2 was Kapil Dev as both didn’t speak much English then,” Gaekwad laughs. “Yash was a formidable force in domestic cricket and a great utility player for India. Fighter, and a very jovial chap, always looking to lighten up the dressing room with his humor. And so fit with no vices, can’t believe he is no more.”

Gaekwad also remembers the Badaam-fuelled energy. “Every night he would put five badaams in glass of water and take it next morning. We used to call his powerful hits as ‘Badaam shots’.

Yashpal was also a national selector for three years from 2003 and supported Sourav Ganguly over the fracas with the coach Greg Chappell, and was instrumental in the international comeback of Ganguly.

It was the actor Dilip Kumar who played an invisible hand in the rise of Yashpal. Impressed with twin hundreds in a Ranji game, the actor would urge the Indian board bigwig Rajsingh Dungarpur to keep an eye on the youngster.

” It was a Ranji match. Big cars came in. People in white clothes. I thought some local politician. I was on 80, and had hit a hundred in the first. Later after my hundred, I was told Yusuf saab is here. ‘I enjoyed your batting. You have good temperament. I will speak to someone.,'” Yashpal would tell Navbharat Times when Dilip kumar died on July 7. “Jab tak mein zinda hoon, mein Yusuf saab ko nahi bhoolonga,” Yashpal had said five days ago.

It’s to that stupendous game-turning ’83 shot that we shall return, the one he had christened the ‘Badaam shot’. Years later he would say, ” I still carry badaam with me in my pocket. We all know about Kapil paaji, but badaam was the secret of my energy.”

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