Mid-July in 2021, Deepak Hooda's career in cricket seemed to have taken a turn for the worse, and how! He had walked out of the Baroda team’s bio-bubble ahead of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and right into what he had admitted was the toughest phase in his life.
An alleged spat with Baroda captain Krunal Pandya forced Hooda into the drastic step, and a season-long suspension followed for him from the state association.
Fast forward to mid-2022 and in Ireland, Hooda picked up the Player of the Series award and became India's fourth men's T20 centurion in the second game of the series, under the leadership of Hardik Pandya.
From a dark and difficult time to the India squad within a year, and what’s more Hooda and Krunal were in the same dugout again with the Lucknow Super Giants in the IPL, which kicked off on 26 March.
And this also wasn’t Hooda’s first call-up to the national team, he’d made the squad five years ago in the T20 series against Sri Lanka and also was part of the squad for 2018 Nidahas Trophy.
In 2022, Hooda, would go on to climb greater heights, becoming a serious part of the conversation ahead of the T20 World Cup in Australia.
The Tough Phase
Looking back at 2021, Hooda, who grabbed the headlines due to rather unfortunate circumstances in domestic cricket, turned to the brothers Irfan and Yusuf Pathan for confidence. The troika spent hours together, training to ensure Hooda would not get demotivated.
“Irfan and Yusuf bhai deserve all the credit for helping me overcome the odds. Being a mentor, they taught me so many things and those lessons have actually helped me. Those days have made me a matured cricketer,” Hooda was quoted as saying by Sportstar.
Out of contention and suspended from the state team, Hooda’s next and possibly only chance to shine then would be the IPL, where he was part of the Punjab Kings side coached by Anil Kumble and captained by KL Rahul.
Hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the IPL’s 2021 season was split in half, but for Hooda, like many players, it didn’t matter. He had limited opportunities to show off his wares, and the batting all-rounder from Rohtak, Haryana wasn’t keen on wasting his chances.
Backed by the duo of Kumble and Rahul, the all-rounder scored some crucial runs in the middle-order, finishing as the franchise’s fourth best batter. Hooda, who totalled 160 runs in 11 innings, scored at a strike rate of 130, managing one half century as well. He also picked a couple of wickets in the seven innings when he rolled his arm over.
“On and off the field, K. L. has been a big inspiration. He always supported me and those things actually helped me boost my confidence during the IPL…,” Hooda had said.
While Punjab did not make the playoffs, Hooda with the backing of Kumble and Rahul, after countless hours in the nets with the Pathan brothers, had ensured his confidence and motivation weren’t about to desert him at a crucial point in time.
New Season and New Start
Once the 2021/22 season came about, Hooda knew he had to make it count. He walked away from the Baroda side and took the tough decision of joining Rajasthan, and it worked wonders from him. In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the tournament from which had terrible memories for him from the year before, Hooda scored 294 runs in 6 innings, before being appointed as skipper of the Rajasthan side for the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He promptly responded with a tally of 198 runs from 6 games, including a century against a traditional powerhouse in Karnataka.
“Moving to Rajasthan was like a re-birth. It gave me a new lease of life and despite coming from a different State, I received a warm welcome and everybody - the team-mates, the coaches - were very welcoming. They made me feel at home and they supported me in every sense. They allowed me to bat in my position and lead the team. It has been an incredible journey,” Hooda told Sportstar.
Shining in India Colours
And with those scores in the bag, Hooda, before the end of January 2022, was drafted into the Indian squad by Chetan Sharma and co.
While Hooda did not score big runs for India, batting in the middle-order, Hooda managed 26 not out and 24 in his two ODIs against West Indies, a series the hosts won 3-0. He also picked a wicket in the second game in Ahmedabad, to help India’s cause.
The selectors kept faith in him for the T20 series, and even though the first game against Sri Lanka went by without much ado, Hooda will surely be afforded a proper chance to showcase his abilities under the Rahul Dravid-Rohit Sharma management.
And on cue, after IPL 2022, the Indian men's team restarted their bid to prepare for the upcoming World Cup. First was a visit from South Africa for a five-match series, in which Hooda did not feature.
However, Dravid and stand-in captain Hardik Pandya picked Hooda for a go in the two-match series against Ireland in Dublin.
Hooda was prepared, making significant contributions in both games, scoring 47 not out in the first and then a century in the next as India registered a series win. The Haryana man had taken his chances when it came by, and as India turned their focus to the England games, 1 Test and 6 white-ball contests, experts and former players had begun talking along the lines of possibly taking Hooda for the upcoming World Cup.
Another few stellar performances from Hooda, would make it mighty difficult to keep him away.