Sharma had suffered a heart attack after returning from morning walk and collapsed at around 7.30 am on Tuesday. He was 66 and is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.
Recalling his long association with Sharma, former cricketer and father of India’s 2011 World Cup hero Yuvraj Singh, Yograj said he was at a loss of words, even as he fondly remembered the eventful bike ride ferrying Yashpal from Ludhiana to Chandigarh before seeing him off for India’s tour to Pakistan in 1978.
“I lost a great friend today, still can’t believe Yashpal is no more amongst us. Our friendship dates back to our formative years in cricket, when I ferried him on my bike from Ludhiana to Chandigarh, and took the bus to Delhi before India’s tour of Pakistan in 1978. I am shell shocked, at loss of words,” said a teary-eyed Yograj, who represented India in one Test and six ODIs between 1980 and 1986.
“He used to captain the Govt College, Ludhiana team and we were part of the DAV-10 Chandigarh team, there was great rivalry between the two sides. During that time we had great respect for our opposition players, off the field we shared great camaraderie but on the field very competitive individuals.”
“He was a vegetarian, teetotaller, used to have soup for his dinner and very particular about his morning walks, can’t believe this is true,” he added.
While his fearlessness against the West Indian pace greats Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, gave India the confidence to go all the way in the World Cup, Yashpal, nicknamed the Crisis Man for India by the legendary Sunil Gavaskar, will forever be cherished for his half century in the semifinal against England.
Chasing a stiff 214, Yashpal slammed 61 off 115 balls with three fours and two sixes, to lead his side to an emphatic six-wicket victory and a spot in the final. He aggregated 240 runs at an average of 34.28 to return as the second highest-scorer for India behind skipper Kapil Dev in the tournament.
A sensation in junior cricket
Sharma hammered a brilliant 260 for Punjab Schools against Jammu and Kashmir Schools in 1972. He received praise from a lot of quarters and soon made it to Punjab University for whom he again sparkled with a knock of 139.
Yashpal made his Ranji Trophy debut for Punjab against Services at Jalandhar at an early age of 19 in 1973 and combined with Mohinder Amarnath to put up a magnificent partnership of 169 contributing 60 with the bat.
Recounting his association with Yashpal, whose performances for Punjab and North Zone led his entry to the Indian side for the Pakistan tour, former Ranji cricketer and son of Kapil Dev’s coach Desh Prem Azad, Sanjiv said he was a fan of Yashpal’s sharp cricketing acumen and his electrifying fielding.
“I played alongside him during the 1985-86 domestic season. He was very close to my father DP Azad, who was Punjab coach. He was Chetan Sharma’s (current chairman of selectors) uncle, and we shared a personal relation. He used to often visit us in Panchkula, where Chetan’s mother stays.”
“A hard task master on the ground, he was very hardworking and disciplined, a great fielder, a sharp cricketing brain. He had this never-say-die attitude, will really miss his presence. We lost a mentor and a close family friend,” Sanjiv said.
Former cricketer, and current GM cricket operations at the UT Cricket Association, Manjit Singh was inconsolable during his brief telephonic conversation. “I am very sad. We played against each other right from 1972 onwards, he was playing for Govt College, Ludhiana and I played for DAV, Chandigarh. We were the champions of North Zone in the Inter-university championship, Yash was our captain.”
“When we played against a star-studded Delhi team (full of Ranji stars), Yashpal scored 193 in the final. We had a very good side too with Ashok Malhotra, Chander Vijay, Rajeev Anand, Arun Chaudhary, and Yograj Singh. That time Yash was a rising star, he was a mentor, a friend, Yashpal’s death is a great personal loss to me. I spoke to Kapil (Dev) today, really pained,” added Manjit, who broke down time and again during the conversation.
In Ranji Trophy, where he represented three teams — Punjab, Haryana and Railways –, Yashpal played 160 matches amassing 8,933 runs which included 21 centuries with a highest score of 201 not out. He was an umpire too and stood in a couple of women’s ODIs. The multi-faceted former player also served as coach of the Uttar Pradesh Ranji team, besides being a national selection in the early 2000s.
In his international career, Yashpal played 37 Tests, scoring 1606 runs, and 42 ODIs in which he made 883. He also picked up one wicket each in the two formats to his credit.