Seasoned Saurashtra batsman Sheldon Jackson has reaped big benefits of becoming a 'six-pack' cricketer this Ranji Trophy season and says the inspiration came from national team captain Virat Kohli, someone who has redefined fitness in Indian cricket.
The 33-year-old Jackson amassed 800 plus runs for the second year in a row to help Saurashtra win their maiden Ranji Trophy after three failed attempts.
Jackson was one of the architects of the triumph with 809 runs at 50.56. The Bhavnagar-born batsman feels the effort that he put into improving his fitness over the past 12 months played a massive role in his consistent run this season.
"It was actually the Virat story that inspired me. With the exemplary skills that he has, if he still thought he needed to get fitter then we are nothing in front of him," said Jackson, who saw Kohli's fitness regimen from close quarters during his stint with the RCB back in 2013.
By his own admission, Jackson was very "raw" in 2013 but six seasons later, he has gone on to become Saurashtra's main batsman in all formats. In fact, the Jaydev Unadkat-led side was a well-oiled machine this season with both star and lesser-known players producing match-winning performances.
"The people who helped me were normal gym trainers. My friends, who used to work out with me in Ahmedabad, they used to see that I was working hard but not getting the results.
"Till last year I used to eat anything, all possible junk, but they (gym trainers) were the ones who taught me to eat well to perform. It has benefited me hugely in my recovery and strength," said Jackson, who is proud of being the only 'six-pack' cricketer in the Saurashtra team.
The batsman, who works for the Income Tax Office in Ahmedadad, made 854 runs even last year but thought he could do much better on the fitness front. And that is what triggered the transformation.
"I thought cricket was a skill game but I was totally wrong. Cricket is a skill game which needs a lot of fitness because if you are fit, you can perform well under pressure, especially when your body is tired," he pointed out.
Having played last for India A in 2016, Jackson has experienced frustration many times but has not let it get the better of him. Saurashtra made the Ranji final even last year but no player made the India A cut.
Having questioned selectors' decision to ignore Saurashtra players following the last season, all Jackson wants now is to play at a higher level. This is actually his wish for all his teammates.
"I believe that due importance has to be given to Ranji performances. Even Cheteshwar Pujara (his teammate) has spoken about it and if he said it, it has to have substance.
"We have not won a lot of trophies over the last 10 years but we have been consistently reaching the finals. It is sad that Saurashtra is looked (at) as a small team. I hope this perception changes sooner than later.
"We are performing year after year and players need to get opportunities. First class cricket in India is so tough that it is hard to just make the knockouts, let alone reaching the final," he said.
People keep reminding him his age and though Jackson feels it should not be a selection criteria, he knows that he is running out of time.
"I have been hearing a lot about my age ever since I turned 30. It is written nowhere that you can't play (at a higher level) after 30 but with the talent that India has, it is very easy to be overlooked.
"I am against this mindset but it is what it is," added Jackson.