The past few months have been a fairy tale for Deepak Hooda. From just another young cricketer waiting in the wings, he has become one of the talking points of Indian cricket.
After debuting in the Indian team against the West Indies in February, Hooda secured a contract in the Indian Premier League with the Lucknow Super Giants for ₹5.75 crore.
In the 15 games he played in, Hooda scored 451 runs and became one of the anchors in the midfield for the Lucknow outfit. Consistent performances in the tournament also helped cement his spot for the home series against South Africa starting next month.
“It was definitely a learning experience, playing for a new team with new responsibilities. So far this has been a good year for me and I’m really looking forward to keeping the momentum going. This tournament has taught me a lot,” Hooda told sports star on Friday.
Like many of his friends, the past two months have been both exhausting and exciting for the 27-year-old. He was just another young talent for Punjab Kings until last season, but Super Giants team management had faith in Hooda. After scoring several half-centuries in the group stage, Hooda came in on Thursday with a 45 in the Eliminator against Royal Challengers Bangalore at Eden Gardens, even if his efforts were not enough to lead the team home†
“It was definitely a heartache for the team. But when we returned to the hotel, GG bhai (Gautam Gambhir) and other support staff spoke to us and we all agreed that this was the first season, not many people thought we would be that consistent but we were able to do this. We were consistent throughout the tournament and were even closer to fulfilling our dreams. But we will see it as a learning process and come back stronger next year,” Hooda said.
In the last few editions of the IPL, Hooda had played for Punjab Kings led by KL Rahul and this time when Rahul took over as captain of Super Giants things got a little easier for him. “I’ve known him (Rahul) for a long time and I know what he expects from his players and how he works, so that definitely helped. GG bhai and Rahul really helped a lot in terms of how to approach the matches and how to handle tricky situations,” Hooda said.
“Those little things were really important to me and also helped me contribute to the team…”
No sugar coating
While he had worked with Rahul in the past, this was Hooda’s first meeting with mentor Gambhir. After spending over two months with the former India player, Hooda was deeply impressed by Gambhir’s style of handling a team. “The best thing I liked about GG bhai is that he expresses his opinion. For the improvement of the team, he does not shy away from saying what needs to be said. He’s not one to wrap things up, if he saw something in you that needed work, he made it a point to tell the person that so he would get better,” Hooda said.
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“Worked with Irfan bhai (Pathan) for a long time I’m used to this way of approaching – even Irfan bhai doesn’t mince words when he thinks something needs to be done about a certain thing. GG bhaiSo did all of us. It was a great learning experience for me…”
Last year Hooda was banned from the Baroda Cricket Association after leaving the bio-bubble on the eve of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, following an alleged altercation with Krunal Pandya. Hooda confined himself to his room and had little contact with family and friends. He thought there would be no more chance, but with the help of the Pashtun brothers – Irfan and Yusuf – and his family, Hooda was able to bounce back.
But in this edition of the IPL, Lucknow has roped in both Hooda and Krunal. “I think we both acted like mature individuals and made sure we let go of the past. We played for the same team, so we had to be on the same page and we both made sure we were on good terms.” said Hooda.
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“There are differences in a family, but in the end you patch things up. That was also the case with us. We’ve had disagreements in the past, but this time when I first met Krunal for the tournament, we behaved normally and there was no animosity. Maybe something happened in the nick of time, but then you have to move on and patch it up. We did and even Krunal was very polite. It was a great good…”
With a resumption of cordial relations between the two, the Baroda Cricket Association requested Hooda to return to the Baroda team for the next domestic season. But Hooda had decided not to leave Rajasthan. “There have been requests from the BCA that I should come back. But I am not leaving Rajasthan and will continue to play for them. In times of crisis, the Rajasthan Cricket Association stood by me (he had joined Rajasthan last year) and encouraged me to get back into action and I want to serve the team. I’m not the one who would forget the people who stood by me in hard times,” Hooda said, insisting, “Monkey ye zaroor likhna, main Rajasthan se hi khelunga…(Ask you to mention this in your thesis)”
That’s Deepak Hooda for you.