Sanjeev Sharma is a fantastic raconteur with an amazing ability to laugh at himself.
The only Indian to record a five-wicket haul at Sharjah, the 54-year-old former Delhi medium pacer tickled the funny bone with a straight face while recollecting his three seasons with the Indian team from 1988 to 90.
Many remember Sharma as the unlucky man, who could have dismissed Graham Gooch cheaply in the 1990 Lord's Test when Kiran More dropped a regulation catch. Gooch scored 333 and 123 in a comprehensive English victory. Sharma never played a Test match after that.
"It's part and parcel of the game. Who knows if Kiran had taken that catch, my Test career would have been different. But let me tell you, I was the top scorer in Indian second innings with 38. More than Sachin Tendulkar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sanjay Manjrekar. How about that," he said, knowing well that it could invoke laughter.
His best moment in a career of two Tests and 23 ODIs came when he picked 5 for 26 against the West Indies in Sharjah back in 1988.
"We didn't play in Sharjah after 2000 but that record stands. It was certainly the highlight of my career, getting five against the West Indies in an Indian win. Gordon Greenidge tried attacking me and Kapil Paaji caught him at mid-off. But I would give more credit to Hiru (Narendra Hirwani) as he got Carl Hooper in the nick of time. It helped me clean off the tail," he recollected.
He didn't get the Man-of-the-Match award, though.
"Yeah, that's okay. Because Chika bhai (Krishnamachari Srikkanth) got a hundred against Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose and Winston Benjamin. I remember the adjudicator was Tony Lewis and even before the game ended, it was announced that Srikkanth had won the award."
The funniest stories are from the tour of West Indies under Dilip Vengsarkar's captaincy in 1989.
"I don't remember the airport -- either in Kingston (Jamaica) or Port Of Spain (Trinidad & Tobago). We had just landed and there were porters around putting our luggage in a trolley. Now West Indians are chatty lot and wouldn't mind striking up a conversation," he said.
It went something like this.
"'Hey Maan, who are the fast bowlers in this Indian team'?," the porter asked Sharma.
"Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma and Sanjeev Sharma was my reply as he obviously didn't know me," he said.
Then came the killer line.
"'Kaaapil I know but who are the other fast bowlers. I am not asking you about off-spinners maan'," Sharma chuckled recalling the chat that is still fresh in his memory.
For Sharma that tour was about Ian Bishop's bowling.
"I can tell you that in the late 80s and early 90s, I don't think there was anyone quicker than Ian Bishop in that particular phase. He was frighteningly quick.And my experience was at a different level." He narrated another incident from the tour, an ODI at Bridgetown, Barbados, which India lost. It turned out to be a dismal series that saw Vengsarkar losing his captaincy.
"Bishop got me clean bowled but that's not the story. My middle stump just cartwheeled and Jeff Dujon caught standing at his position. Next day, in my hotel room, me and Ajay (Sharma) were discussing, who scored how much.
"I told Ajay, 'jisne bhi jitna mara ho, paper mein picture toh mera hi nikla hain' (The picture of stumps taking a walk was an agency picture that was on all Caribbean newspapers)," said Sharma, who had taken 235 wickets and scored 2785 runs from 89 first-class games, and was part of a very strong Delhi team.
During those days, money had just come in and platers would get Rs 7500 for ODIs and 10,000 for Test matches along with daily allowance.
"You know at one point I had Rs 1.70 lakh as match fees and DA during the home series of 1988. As I wasn't able to go home, the money accumulated.
"After the last game, I put all the money in packet and put it in check-in luggage. Had I lost it, Indian Airlines would have given me Rs 150 as compensation for lost item," he said, and one couldn't stop laughing.