Kolkata: It may have been 38 years to the day, but June 25 always remembered special to the Indian cricket fan. This year was no different when ‘Kapil’s Devils’, as they entered the cricketing folklore as, gathered in Gurugram for the launch of Opus, a coffee table book on India’s fabled 1983 World Cup win. And that was the last time ‘Kapil’s Devils’ would have been together - as Yashpal Sharma was the first of the heroes to fall on Tuesday morning. Things will never be the same again when the next June 25 comes around, but such is life.
Even a casual follower of Indian cricket’s journey knows that despite being a squad full of such illustrious names as Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath or the skipper himself, the script for arguably the game’s biggest upset till date could not have been written without the likes of a Madan Lal, Kirti Azad or Yashpal Sharma. Azad, perhaps, summed it up the best way by calling him the ‘backbone’ of their middle order during that campaign as the news sent shockwaves among his team members.
Mind you, the endorsement was not merely a manner of speaking - for not too many of us would even remember that the gutsy cricketer from Punjab was actually the second highest scorer for India in that tournament after Kapil Dev with a tally of 240 runs at an average of 34.28. Call him a working class hero if you will admid the big names, but Sharma never shied away from a challenge and played a critical role in the semi-final against England when they were chasing a total of 214 but India had lost both Gavaskar and Srikkanth with for 50 on the board.
Sharma played with authority and scored 61 off 115 balls with three fours and two sixes while his twin partnerships – first with Amarnath and then Sandeep Patil – were one of the main reasons behind India’s six-wicket win.
What’s more, his contribution in the first league game is often regarded as even bigger in lending that self-belief to the team - who were regarded as minnows on the back of two embarrassing previous World Cup campaigns in 1975 and 1979.
Sharma had topscored with 89 (off 120 balls) to help India reach 262 for eight on way to their 34-run victory over West Indies - a performance which proved that Clive Lloyd’s Invincibles, who were on the threshold of a hat-trick of triumphs, were not unbeatable after all.
The middle order batsman, who was an extraordinary fielder at the cover, played 37 Test matches for his 1606 runs and 42 ODIs for 883 runs. He also had a long reign in first class cricket in India, having represented Punjab, Haryana and Railways and scored 8933 runs from 160 matches.
He also served as a match referee and umpire and was actively involved in coaching as well - till a cardiac arrest after the customary morning walk proved fatal.
Go well, Yashpal Sharma...