Hyderabad: Gutsy cricketer Yashpal Sharma who was once dubbed as India’s “Man for a Crisis” by Sunil Gavaskar, died of a cardiac arrest on Tuesday. He was known for his fighting spirit and his dour batting came to team India’s rescue on many occasions. He played an important role in India’s World Cup campaign in 1983 which ended in a historic victory. But not many people know that Yashpal’s cricket career would never have reached sublime heights had it not been for the famed thespian Dilip Kumar.
It was the Bollywood superstar who first spotted the talent in Yashpal and helped him to make an entry into the Indian cricket team. One day, back when Yashpal Sharma was a struggling cricketer desperately trying to catch the eye of the national selectors, he was taking part in a Ranji Trophy match. In that match he went on to score a century. Dilip Kumar was a keen sports enthusiast and served in many roles behind the scenes.
Moreover, the Bollywood star had that knack for spotting and gauging talent and realising its worth. He saw Yashpal Sharma’s spirited knock and realised that he was a specially gifted batsman. After Yashpal’s batting was over, a member of the ground staff brought him a message that someone in the stadium office wanted to meet him. After discarding his pads, gloves and cricket gear, Yashpal made his way to the stadium office.
There, to his surprise, Yashpal saw the famed Bollywood actor seated behind the desk. Dilip Kumar welcomed him and congratulated him. He then told Yashpal that he could see a rare talent in him. “I will speak to someone in the BCCI and see that you are taken in the Indian side,” Dilip Kumar assured Yashpal.
The next morning, Dilip Kumar kept his promise. He called up selector Raj Singh Dungarpur (the man who later appointed Mohammed Azharuddin the captain of the Indian team) and told him about Yashpal Sharma. “This boy from Punjab has a rare talent. He can fight under any circumstances. India will benefit if his services are utilised,” said Dilip Kumar while recommending Yashpal Sharma.
Raj Singh who had wide connections in Bollywood, knew Dilip Kumar well and he knew that the famed thespian was not a person to make false claims. That recommendation worked wonders and soon Yashpal Sharma found himself in the Indian team.
The story was related to Yashpal Sharma many years later by Raj Singh himself. “It was on the recommendation of Dilip saab that we decided to include you in the team.” Raj Singh told Yashpal.
Yahspal’s gratitude knew no bounds. Back in 1981 a film titled Kranti starring Dilip Kumar and others was released. Yashpal used to view this film again and again. He was once asked by his teammate – the dashing and hard hitting batsman Sandeep Patil – why he liked the film Kranti so much. It was then that Yashpal told Sandeep Patil the story of how Yusuf bhai (Dilip Kumar) had promoted his cricket career and made him what he was.
Yashpal who was born in Ludhiana is the uncle of another international cricketer Chetan Sharma. After he retired from the game, Yashpal served as umpire and then as national selector for two terms. He was the selector in 2011 when the Indian team won the World Cup. Sadly, the gutsy cricketer and his famous patron passed away within days of each other.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.