By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, July 13 (IANS) India’s 1983 World Cup-winning batsman Yashpal Sharma, who passed away on Tuesday aged 66, owed his rise to stardom to two summer tournaments he regularly played in Lucknow for several years — the Sheesh Mahal Trophy and the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy, in which he scored prolifically.
Both tournaments, now discontinued, used to be played in peak summer, in April-May, in Lucknow and Sharma was probably the biggest player that emerged from there, particularly from the Sheesh Mahal Trophy. Sharma started appearing in the tournament in early 1970s.
Some of Lucknow’s stalwarts, like Ashok Bambi, Mazhar Ali Ansari, and Pervez Ullah, who played against Sharma, say he must have scored 10 or
12 centuries, including two double hundreds, that helped his stature grow as a solid middle-order batsman.
Sharma first represented the Food Corporation of India, with which he was employed, and for the State Bank of India (SBI), which he joined later.
All-rounder Mazhar Ali Ansari, who played 35 Ranji Trophy/first-class matches for Uttar Pradesh between 1984 and 1992, said that Sharma was a runaway success in the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy, which was discontinued in the mid-1980s, and in the Sheesh Mahal Trophy in particular.
“He was physically very fit. His running between the wickets, even in those days, was brilliant. He used to steal what we often call ‘cheeky singles’. And he used to hit towering success. Once, he hit two centuries in one tournament,” Ansari told IANS from Lucknow.
“I remember local media reports in Lucknow said that his performances in the Sheesh Mahal Trophy were considered when he was picked for India. In those days, the Sheesh Mahal matches were of three-day duration and later it became a limited overs tournament,” he recalled.
Sharma made his One-day International debut first, against Pakistan in Sialkot in 1978, and then the Test debut, against England at Lord’s, London, in 1979. He went on to play 37 Tests and 42 ODIs, until 1985.
Bambi, who captained Uttar Pradesh and Wills XI teams in domestic tournaments, too applauded Sharma’s batsmanship.
“I don’t think any player would have scored as many runs as Yashpal scored in this tournament. He was a great player. He scored 10 centuries, or maybe 12, in a much less number of years than when I played the tournament. I scored three centuries in 28 years of playing the Sheesh Mahal Trophy,” he said.
Pace bowling all-rounder Parvez Ullah said Sharma emerged as an outstanding player from the Sheesh Mahal Trophy.
“He was the No.1 product of the tournament, besides Surinder Khanna and Navjot Singh Sidhu. I remember he scored two double centuries in the tournament. When Yashpal started playing in Lucknow I was in school and used to go to the K.D. Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium to watch him in action very early in the morning as matches would start at 6 am. We were fans of Sharma. Later, I got the honour of also playing against him,” said Parvez Ullah.
Parvez Ullah, who represented his employers, the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA), and Gulmarg Club in the Sheesh Mahal Trophy, has another reason to remember Sharma. His team, LDA, lost to SBI by a solitary run in 1983.
“It was a three-day final and LDA took the first innings lead. And despite that advantage, we lost the match to Sharma’s SBI by one run. I think Yashpal took two or three wickets in that final,” he recalled.
Surinder Khanna, who was Sharma’s roommate on the Indian team’s long tour of England in 1979 that included the World Cup and a Test series, also endorsed the view that the national selectors would in that period take into account performances in top tournaments like Buchi Babu and Sheesh Mahal Trophy.
“They used to consider the performances in these tournaments. Yashpal’s performance in the Sheesh Mahal Trophy might have been instrumental in his selection in the Indian team, though he had made his India debut much earlier ,” he said.
“He was not a flamboyant batsman. He would stay at the wicket and would score crucial runs.”
The Sheesh Mahal Trophy was a brainchild of cricket crazy fan M. Askari Hasan, who felt that a vacant slot of summer could be filled with a tournament in Lucknow. The first edition was played in 1951 and matches would start at around 6 am and finish around noon. Matches would be played at the K.D. Singh ‘Babu’ Stadium and Colvin Taluqdars’ College, and when the Chowk Stadium in old Lucknow came up in the mid-1980s, they started playing matches there.
As more and more tournaments were launched in various parts of India with money appearance/prize money, the Sheesh Mahal Trophy lost its lustre as players became increasingly reluctant to play in the warm weather and for little income. Also, sponsors were hard to come by. And, as Hasan’s health deteriorated, the tournament also lost its standing and was discontinued in 2010.
Besides Sharma, all other top cricketers of their eras, including Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, Kapil Dev, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have appeared in the tournament.
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