“Where is it written in the laws of the game that you’re not eligible to get picked for the national team when you cross 30?" - It’s easy to understand the emotions behind Sheldon Jackson’s words if you are a follower of domestic cricket. Jackson has in excess of 800 runs in the last two completed Ranji Trophies, helping Saurashtra finish runner-up in 2018-19 and winners in 2019-20.
Jackson has scored in excess of 750 runs in Ranji Trophy four times. But forget India, he hasn’t even been lucky with India A selection in recent years. If his age - 34 - is the reason, Jackson is vocal about how unfair a parameter it is.
The last year has been an interesting one for Jackson. Soon after winning the Ranji Trophy, Jackson announced a shift to Puducherry in search of fresh challenges. There was no Ranji Trophy, but he impressed in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament, hitting 242 runs from five matches at a strike rate of 155.12 including a century against Andhra and an 82 against Haryana. It was a performance that got him back to IPL (KKR) for the first time since 2017.
With no Ranji Trophy last year, and the uncertainties surrounding domestic cricket this season due to COVID-19 in India, the road for Jackson might have gotten tougher. The aftereffects of the pandemic has made many ‘senior’ domestic cricketers contemplate the road ahead, looking at opportunities in coaching/commentary/media.
Jackson understands the pressures such cricketers face, and says he too could have been in such a place without the cushion of an IPL contract. However, despite all odds and challenges - of the system and the pandemic - Jackson’s desire to don India colours is still very much intact.
In this interview, Jackson opens up about his India ambitions, and hints that he could return to Saurashtra in the coming season.
It’s been a year since you shifted to the Pondicherry team. How has the transformation been?
When I left Saurashtra, I was not very comfortable. Because I have been here since forever. This is my house and this is my parent association. So I had taken prior permission from them, told them this is what I feel, and it wasn’t like a permanent decision. I always told them that whenever I want to come back, please do keep that option open for me.
I found it’s tough to be playing cricket as a professional when you’re so far from home. The demands of performing as a professional is basically every second innings you have to perform. That’s what they have you there for, and pay you for. In Pondicherry, the coaching staff was very up to the mark. I found Avishkar Salvi to be very, very good. I liked Pondicherry, the cricketing facility there was awesome. It’s a small place compared to other places, but the cricket facilities are very good.
So are you thinking of returning to Saurashtra?
At the moment, I’ve kept all my options open. Still there is no certainty about the next season, when it’s going to happen or if it happens. So I have not closed any doors. Throughout the year, I’ve been in touch with Saurashtra Cricket Association members, some players, I’ve kept a healthy relationship. Let’s see, you never know what happens.
When will you be taking the decision?
At the moment, I’m not very sure about that. But I’ve been missing home since last year. So that’s my answer.
Your career - national ambitions…
I’m 34. If I’m performing well, better than a 22-23 year old, where is it written in the laws of the game that you’re not eligible to get picked for the national team? Who are those people judging you, and on ability are they judging you? By Ranji score? Fitness? If you’re scoring 800-900 runs consistently for two-three seasons, it means you have to be fit. Or you won’t be able to sustain. So how can you be judged? Many a times I hear that ‘he’s above 30’. Where is it written that you can’t be picked? And who are these people who are taking away your right from you?
You have to judge by the game, not on some factor that doesn’t resonate. I was not aware of it, but recently I saw a stat on Twitter that I’m among players who have scored 750+ runs in a Ranji Trophy season maximum times.
Ranji Trophy is the toughest first-class competition in the world. Because every week we play on a different surface. In England, Australia and New Zealand you know there is going to be bounce or seam. Here, one week you’re playing on a seaming track in freezing cold conditions, next week you’re playing in a place like Rajkot where you get either a turner or a flat track. Then again you change after a week, you’re constantly changing your technique and mindset.
When you know that people are there to catch your throat for being over 30, you work harder than many others just to put your case forward. That I have done it, I will do it and that I’m here to get selected and not just to be like ‘okay I’m in this phase of my career, maze karoonga and finish off’. No, if I don’t have motivation, I’ll do that today and leave.
Now with COVID, without Ranji Trophy or India A games, how do you put forward your case?
Didn’t I do it this year? The Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare Trophy? In such uncertain times, when you know Ranji Trophy isn’t going to happen, all you have to do is pray and do your best in white ball, pink ball, red ball or any colour ball. I know it’s easy to talk and difficult to do, but luckily this year, I’ve done it and that’s why I can talk.
I have a record that no one talks about. I have 100+ sixes in Ranji Trophy. In a format that demands lesser risk, I take more risk. So I have the game.
As a senior player in Indian first-class cricket, how do you see this whole situation due to COVID. Beyond the monetary aspect, how has lack of cricket affected players?
It has pushed many players, because of Ranji not happening. Many senior players look to play red ball, and with that not happening, they have to generate some kind of revenue to take care of themselves and their families. Nowadays, everything has become so so expensive, and even in today’s times many (players) are not blessed with jobs. If Ranji doesn’t happen, then you don’t know how you’ll provide for your family.
If you’re above 30, you’re likely to be married and mostly you’ll have kids. You have to take care of your growing family. I have a kid, so I know how difficult it is at times. I also would have been in a similar position, but this year, I’m lucky to have an IPL contract. So it has given me that monetary cushion if Ranji Trophy doesn’t happen.
But the BCCI also has tried their best, you have to give credit. Even organising the white ball tournaments was not easy. But they did it brilliantly, the bio bubbles for so many teams.
Because of such situations, there are certain doubts in players’ minds, what if there is no Ranji Trophy even this year? That’s a lot of money - two years without Ranji Trophy, for an average first class player. They have to pay rents, EMIs, family’s medication and education, general needs… how are they going to take care of it? They’ll be using their savings, if anything is saved.
Ultimately when savings start reducing, I have been through that phase so I know, it puts you in a very dark space and you get worried about your future. It is tough at the moment.
We all talk about men’s first class cricketers. But no one is talking about women cricketers. Even they have families to run. In our country, they broke barriers to become sportspersons. There are so many girls now who want to become like a Mithali Raj. So many women cricketers can be taken care if or be given contracts by associations. So that they can take care of their needs and continue playing the game with the same passion. Women’s cricket actually brings so much of joy.