The pitch wasn’t a great one to bat on but I could see his determination in the way he batted. [Sharma scored 74 out of Punjab’s first-innings total of 156.] And since he was already an India player, getting him out twice was a big achievement for me.
In the next season, we were team-mates for North Zone at the Duleep Trophy. That’s when I realised how serious he was about his cricket. Even in the nets, he batted with the intensity of a match. He was so much into the game that he wouldn’t sit idle after he was done with batting. He would come and bowl his offspin, or work on his fielding.
I learnt how to improve my fielding first and majorly from Maddi pa [Madan Lal], but when I saw Yashpal Sharma working on his fielding, I told myself if I could also do that, I would become a good fielder too. So there was a lesson to be learnt from his work ethic.
He was a very disciplined cricketer, overall. He was fond of food but at the same time he was conscious of what he ate. He didn’t want anything to affect his cricket. If he was playing the next day, he would avoid a heavy dinner. On a match day, he would have a light lunch.
“I realised how serious he was about his cricket. Even in the nets, he batted with the intensity of a match. He was so much into the game that he wouldn’t sit idle after he was done with batting. He would come and bowl his offspin, or work on his fielding”
I have always believed that to be successful in international cricket, you have to be mentally strong. And he was. He was gritty. He didn’t look 100% technically sound but at that level if you are mentally strong, you can make up for it.
He was a massive fan of [Indian actor] Dilip Kumar. I remember on my first tour to Pakistan, in 1982-83, we were staying at guesthouses at certain places. There used to be VCRs and he would watch Dilip Kumar movies. Sometimes just to annoy him, some of the players would put in a different cassette when he went for a toilet break. That was the only time I saw him getting angry.
After our playing days, we did umpiring and commentary together. We stood in a couple of games together and his concentration level was as high as when he was playing.
There was also a lot to learn from him about the game when we did commentary. As I was junior to him, we didn’t communicate much during our playing days. But during our commentary stints, I felt whatever he said on air, he used to apply all that in his own game too. While doing commentary with him, I felt I was learning cricket all over again.
Sometimes I felt he was a bit too serious. But that was his way of life, and everybody cannot be like that.
We met recently during India’s home series against England. And he looked fit and fine. He was very health conscious; he would go for his walks quite regularly. So when the news of his death came, I was in absolute shock. I still cannot believe this has happened. For someone who was so disciplined in his life, so health-conscious, he is gone too soon.
I can’t shake the thought from my head, perhaps he took the departure of his hero [Dilip Kumar, who died on July 7] to heart.