Emotional homecoming for Saurashtra’s Sheldon

Lester Bell was never really interested in cricket, but about two decades back, he found himself shopping for little gloves, mini-pads and smaller bats. After he adopted little Sheldon Jackson, then 4, and brought him to Mumbai when he was 12, little did he know that cricket would soon become central to his life, and earn precedence even over his busy job at the shipping firm.

Today, Sheldon Jackson is the backbone of Saurashtra's batting order, and is back in the city as one of the biggest threats that Mumbai's Ranji team need to watch out for. Sheldon had lost his father when he was 10 but he had already been under the foster care of his uncle Lester. Financial difficulties being the reason for Sheldon's painful parting from his family.

Life has never been easy for Jackson; and chances were few and far between. At St Peter's, Mazgoan in Mumbai, the now Saurashtra middle-order bat tried his luck in cricket but played only two Harris and Giles Shield games. His steady interest in sports took him into hockey, football and athletics but soon Bell decided that Mumbai was not the place for him, so the young wicket-keeper was shifted back to Bhavnagar.

"The family's economic conditions were very poor that's the reason I was adopted. Whatever I am today is because of my uncle. I stayed in Mumbai for three years and then moved backed to Bhavnagar. Soon I made it to the Saurashtra U-16 side," Jackson says, resting on a couch in a posh seven-star hotel now.

Sitting next to him, Bell's ever the doting guardian as he predicts a win for Saurashtra and a hundred for Sheldon, even as the youngster blushes at this indulgent appraisal by the elder. Mumbai's star-studded line-up is no deterrent for this father. "I didn't have a child, so I adopted Sheldon. He was from the extended family and people thought after adopting him I'd change his name but I didn't. What's in the name? He calls me papa and I'm a happy, proud parent now. He has worked hard for this," Bell explains.

When in school Sheldon always told his friends that he had two fathers and two mothers. Many thought it a joke, and laughed at him, but the 26-year-old wasn't lying. After his decent performances with the Saurashtra junior team, Sheldon soon got the nod for the Ranji side but what followed next was an anxious wait, that tested the batsman to the core.

Sheldon had taken four years to debut for Saurashtra and his father reveals that he even went on to request Railways to give him a break. "They told me that I'm late but now I think it was better that he didn't go on to play for another team. Looking at his batting I'm sure he will play for the Indian team some day," Bell said.

It was this season that Sheldon amassed 742 runs with three centuries and four half-centuries which saw him cementing his place in the side. Saturday will be a big day for the Bell family with Sheldon playing his first big Ranji Trophy final against a star-studded Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium.

Sheldon has prohibited Bell from coming for the final because that can lead to nerves all-round and raise his dad's anxiety levels. The veteran shipping manager won't mind. After all his son's ship has set sail and looks headed in the right direction.

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