Brendon McCullum: Sheldon Jackson has got an MS Dhoni sort of a feel

Preferred batting spots are difficult to grab in a tournament as competitive as the Indian Premier League. Domestic run-machine Sheldon Jackson turned out to be a fine wicketkeeper for the Kolkata Knight Riders, but the high-pressure league is yet to witness the power-hitter.

Sheldon usually bats at No. 3 or No. 4 for Saurashtra. And he barely had a few deliveries to face at No. 6 against the Chennai Super Kings. He was not out on three, while Shreyas Iyer finished the game. And against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the right-hander came in at No. 7 and fell for a golden duck. He failed to read the googly by Wanindu Hasaranga.

Despite three clean catches behind the stumps and a couple of stumpings in the first two appearances, he had to make way for seamer Shivam Mavi for the game against the Punjab Kings to maintain the balance of the side. But the KKR management rates him highly, and he will feature in more games this season.

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KKR head coach Brendon McCullum lauded Sheldon for his ball-striking abilities. “Sheldon continues to get better and better. He is 35, but you wouldn’t know. His growth in the last two years has been significant. He has a good ball-striking ability. And very few players hit the ball as far as he does, he is not too far, if not the same, behind Andre Russell when he is striking the ball. I am sure with more opportunities, we will see a performance from Sheldon,” the former New Zealand captain told reporters.

Sheldon took three catches against RCB, including a diving one-hander, and he stumped Shahbaz Ahmed off Varun Chakravarthy at a crucial juncture. “The wicketkeeping skills have been superb. He has got an MS Dhoni sort of a feel about keeping; really fast hands, and an understanding of spin. He knows what the bowlers are doing. He is desperate to do well,” said McCullum.

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There is no clarity if KKR will rotate Sheldon and Sam Billings behind the stumps. Since the spots for foreigners are limited, the stakes could be higher for an Indian wicketkeeper when all players are available.

Sheldon has 1,514 T20 runs and a highest score of 106 not out against Andhra when he represented Puducherry for the 2020-21 leg of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20. He strikes the ball at 120.73.

Fielding top-notch

KKR has been phenomenal in the field. And Tim Southee’s electric sprint from long-off to mid-on covering a distance of 32m to catch Kagiso Rabada turned many heads. 

KKR mentor David Hussey highlighted the background work done by fielding coach James Foster. “The boys do a lot of fielding. The fielding coach James [Foster] is excellent; arguably one of the best fielding coaches in the world. He rides the boys pretty hard. There is a lot of ground fielding and catching. He makes sure the boys are ready for the game. He ensures they are nice and comfortable under high balls and flat balls.”

The Knights will next face Mumbai Indians on April 6 in Pune. Australia Test captain Pat Cummins is available for selection for the contest against the five-time champion. “Pat is a leader. And he will add another layer of leadership in and around Shreyas,” added McCullum.

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