During Saurashtra's league-phase clash against Mumbai in the recently concluded Ranji Trophy, two innocuous Royston Dias deliveries precisely encapsulated Sheldon Jackson's cricketing graph hitherto. The first of those, banged around good length, saw the middle-order dasher unveil a glitzy backfoot punch straight to the extra cover fielder. The stroke was executed with silken dexterity and had four runs written all over it, but the ultimate result amounted to zilch.
Left-arm pacer Dias hurled another lifter in the fourth stump channel. Jackson, distraught at not having bisected the gap earlier, tweaked the bat face hoping to maneuver the ball slightly finer but ended up overcooking the adjustment and found backward point nonetheless. Virulent head shakes ensued, followed by a crestfallen gaze at the heavens.
It was a queer yet accurate representation of Jackson's misery over the previous eight seasons, where despite having left no stone unturned in his endeavor to succeed, the reward somehow just always transcended beyond his reach. To put his elbow grease into perspective, Jackson has stockpiled 5,634 runs across 128 trips to the crease in first-class rubbers, averaging just a tick below fifty, with 19 hundreds and 27 half-centuries embellishing his credentials.
Yet, the brawny right-hander has been yearning for recognition. Let alone donning the national colours, the cherished dream of every uncapped player, Jackson has been, by and large, devoid of opportunities in the India A games or the Duleep Trophy fixtures. The proverbial silver lining remained all but absent.
The selectors turning a blind eye towards him shoved Jackson down the rabbit hole of despair, even forcing him to contemplate hanging up his boots. “I never got recognised. I totally lost motivation halfway during those times. I thought no matter how many runs I score, no matter whatever I do, I am not going to get picked. This Ranji season, between the first and second game, I had almost made up my mind that I am going to quit the game for good. I was so mentally upset with things. I was not in a very good space at that time.", Jackson expressed his dejection, as any batsman who has earned his spurs would.
However, amidst the quagmire, the scope for enhancement in fitness levels reignited the fire in Jackson's belly. Emulated from Virat Kohli's training regime, the barbell presses and clean snatches not only elevated Jackson's physical capabilities to greater dimensions but also helped him banish his mental demons and discover a rejuvenated approach to life in general. The negative thoughts were put to bed, and a shredded Jackson kick-started afresh.
The effects were immediate. Jackson grafted a stoic half-century versus Uttar Pradesh before plundering 161 against front runners Karnataka. He stayed the course, thumping a fantastic 186 versus Madhya Pradesh and bailing Saurashtra out of choppy waters with an obdurate 85 in the aforementioned encounter.
The consistent performances didn't stymie his hunger and he kept delivering the goods, with his fluent ton propelling Saurashtra into the driving seat in their semi-final joust against Gujarat. In essence, Jackson was amongst the chief architects of Saurashtra's triumphant Ranji Trophy campaign, with 809 runs blazing at 50.56 from his ominous willow.
Having grabbed eyeballs with numerous meaty knocks, Jackson believes in not resting on his laurels. "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.", he quips longingly.
How Jackson has conquered each hurdle with gumption defines his character. The numbers portray his brilliance. The journey has been replete with hardships and heartbreaks. Will he finally get his due? For now, its anybody's guess. But for the time being, all Jackson aspires for is to thread the gap.