What next for Sheldon Jackson?

Jackson scored 854 runs in the Ranji Trophy last season and is close to 700 this year, but he is still waiting for a chance at the top level.

Saurashtra batsman Sheldon Jackson at the post-match football session with team-mates in Ongole on Sunday.

Saurashtra batsman Sheldon Jackson at the post-match football session with team-mates in Ongole on Sunday.   -  WRIDDHAAYAN BHATTACHARYYA

 

We are at the CSR Sharma College Ground in Ongole in Andhra Pradesh. The fourth day of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal just ended. And almost immediately, began Saurashtra’s soccer session. Leading one end of the faction, separated by plastic chairs, is Sheldon Jackson. He takes a free-kick. The ball curls and reaches Harvik Desai, who is visibly surprised at Jackson’s skill and accuracy.

Ripped and in full grip of any sport he commits to, the 33-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman is a visual delight. Even if it is football. It is this dedication that fetched him 5,430 runs in the first-class format. After nine years of grind with 18 centuries, 26 fifties and 112 sixes, Jackson is now keen for some boogie in top-flight cricket.

In a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar, Jackson discusses the importance of Ranji Trophy and recalls the day when he took on the BCCI senior selection committee on Twitter for not including players from Saurashtra in India A despite consistent performances in the domestic season.

Every season, you are scoring 700+ runs. You are already on 680 now. What are the new things that you discovered about your batting?

Before, I used to be expressive right from the start. Now I am trying to take my time, settle in and try to play with the team. I try to carry the team with me so that I benefit and also, the team benefits. I feel I am getting a little bit better by doing this.

This will be Saurashtra’s fourth semifinal in five years. How much value does this trophy hold for you?

This is the biggest tournament in India. And throughout the year, we keep practising and training just to play the Ranji Trophy. It adds a lot of value in any cricketer’s life. Coming from such a small, tiny state, it adds a lot of prestige to our careers. You do it once in a lifetime, people may call it a fluke but if you are doing it repeatedly, then there is something that is going in the right direction. Wherever we have played away from home, we have almost won the game. Every cricketer coming from Saurashtra wants to improve and do well for themselves and the team. The format is such that if you do well individually, you will end up doing well for the team.

What changed for Saurashtra in the last five years?

It’s the culture that everyone is setting. There is a lot of backing and security in the team. It comes right from the association and management. There hasn’t been too much chopping and changing in the last six years. Besides one or two players from age-group cricket, it’s been the same side.

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In the nine seasons I have played, I have never felt insecure. You tend to perform better when there is security. Even this year, players have had a lean patch but they are still here and they will still get chances.

Last year, you had called out the BCCI selection committee on Twitter for not including Saurashtra players in India A. Did anybody reach out to you after that?

Nobody. But what came out of that was positive as I had not asked anything bad. It was a genuine question. It could have gone the other way but people took it the right way. They understood that as players, we need to know why we are not picked for the higher level even after performing in domestic cricket. And it applies to all the players [who are being ignored] and not only me. I scored 850 runs last year and I wasn’t picked, this season I am already close to 700, so let’s see.

See, I will be okay even if I am not picked. I am getting paid to play the Ranji Trophy and the other tournaments too, but then there are dreams. If I can make a difference by playing cricket for India, why not? Cricket is not about your age, it is about your fitness. If you are fit, you can play at any level. And looking at me, do you think I am unfit?

Not at all. It is visible with the way you run between the wickets...

If you follow my posts on Instagram, you will know that I am one of the most ripped cricketers around. It is because I want to play at the higher level. The day I feel I can’t play at the higher level, my hunger and the scope of improvement will go. Then there is no point of just playing cricket because I have played enough of Ranji. I have played 70 odd matches and I average close to 50. I have nothing else to prove but every morning when I wake up, I still have the urge and the dream to play at the higher level.

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Ripped and in full grip of any sport he commits to, Sheldon is a delight to watch. Even if it is football.   -  WRIDDHAAYAN BHATTACHARYYA

 

What keeps you motivated?

I just have to keep scoring. The more I score, the more motivated I am. I know that if I score, I may get a chance. It need not be an IPL contract or India A only, even if I get a call-up for a Duleep Trophy game, that is also the higher level.

You’ve been a wicketkeeper too. How often do you train behind the stumps?

I kept in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this season. But in days cricket, I feel that 'keeping would hamper my batting and I am not required to keep in Saurashtra in Ranji Trophy due to the team’s balance. More than keeping, my batting adds more value to this side in red-ball cricket.

But being ready as a ‘keeper might just help you to sneak into any side in the IPL. K.L. Rahul started ‘keeping in the IPL and now, he is keeping for India…

I am a natural ‘keeper as I have done that all my life. Even when I kept in the IPL [for Kolkata Knight Riders], no one could say that I had flaws.

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I kept very well in the limited chances I got. Not a single run, not a catch dropped. I still do it in the Saurashtra Premier League in white-ball cricket. I am a born ‘keeper and I am doing it from U-14.

How do you train in the off-season?

I sit back and try to see where I get out most of the time. Last year, I got out defending a lot of times. This year, I tried to work on that in different situations and conditions – in the rain and the heat. It would pour down but I would still bat hoping the ball would behave differently. I have been training like that. People may find it strange but it is helping me. In eight matches, if I have 700 runs, I think I have done decently.

Rahul Dravid was coaching India A till last year, which perhaps would have helped you more had you received a call-up...

I feel very unlucky to have spent very little time with him. I was part of the setup in 2016 for three games but I didn’t get to play. That was the only time I interacted with Rahul bhai. He was very mental than technical with me. He had spoken on the preparations. Even Sitanshu Kotak [former Saurashtra coach] is similar. He is a mentally tough coach. He stresses on being mentally tough to survive situations. You may have the best technique in the world but if you aren’t mentally tough, you won’t survive the sledging and the other challenges in the middle.

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Sheldon Jackson: "I just have to keep scoring. The more I score, the more motivated I am."   -  Vivek Bendre

 

How much of a role does IPL play in a domestic cricketer’s life?

IPL does play a big role financially, for the exposure and also the level of cricket on offer. There are so many cricketers in India and IPL made their life. People don’t know where you are going to get the next morsel in your mouth and one fine day, you have an IPL contract and your life is set.

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Today, all the luxuries we have is coming from cricket. The cars and the iPhones. I am a government employee and I know that one can barely run your house with that money. It has also helped me shape into a better cricketer. After spending time in KKR, the consistency went up.

Who helped you there?

Simon Katich. He was a mentally tough guy again. The analyst, A.R. Srikkanth, also helped. I feel I am a little mentally weak when you have to balance it with the skills. I am more of skills. But if that matches, I can be a better player.
 

Jackson in Ranji Trophy 2019-20 (as of February 23, 2020)

Matches: 8

Runs: 680

100s: 2

50s: 3

Average: 52.30

Highest score: 186

 

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