An introvert in person but quite expressive on the cricket field, Deepak Hooda resembles the image of most Indian cricketers, who do not hail from the cricketing powerhouses. Like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Wriddhiman Saha or Umesh Yadav, Hooda is a man of few words. But ask him about his latest call-up to the Indian team for the Nidahas Trophy and words start rolling out like a school kid, whose elocution competition has just started. He is jubilant, understandably, but along with that there is a sense of responsibility that one can feel in his words.
Hooda's first call-up to the national team came during the T20I series against Sri Lanka in December 2017. It was a short series which ended within a week and the Baroda player didn't get an opportunity to feature in the playing XI. But Hooda claims that being in the Indian dressing room and rubbing shoulders with the likes of MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma was a learning experience in itself. The dressing room environment naturally had a rub off effect on him.
"It was a good experience. There was a lot of self-belief in the team. I learnt a lot about professionalism. Nobody bothered you unnecessarily. But it was important to have your own plan and practice accordingly. Basically, I figured out how you should take your own responsibility," said Hooda on a telephonic conversation from the sidelines of a Star Sports event in Hyderabad.
There have been innumerous stories of Dhoni sharing his wisdom with the youngsters and thanks to the Sri Lanka series, which India won 3-0, Hooda also has one of his own. During the week-long series, Hooda informs, Dhoni talked to him about 'the art of finishing' and how to bat at No 5. With both Dhoni and Hardik Pandya in the Indian squad for that three-match series, there was no vacancy in the Indian middle order for Hooda. But now that both of them have been rested there is a vaccum in the team which can be fulfilled by Hooda and it is safe to say that he will put Dhoni's advice into practice in the Island nation if given an opportunity.
A glance at his career strike rate in T20s — 143.48 — is enough to understand how destructive a batsman Hooda is. He has the attributes that a number five batsman needs and also possesses the ability to finish games. He was also amongst the runs in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and smashed the third fastest T20 century of the tournament in February. He finished with 226 runs which he struck at a strike rate of 150.66.
India might have won the T20I series against South Africa but the finishing problem resurfaced in the Rainbow Nation. In the first match in Johannesburg, where 220 seemed reachable, Virat Kohli and Co only managed to post 203. While they accelerated efficiently in the next game, but it was because Dhoni and Manish Pandey were at the crease for a long time and were set for the late flourish. The scenario was going to be the same in the last match of the tour too but Proteas bowled a poor penultimate over. What those three matches highlighted though was that Dhoni needed to be at the centre for some time before upping the ante while Pandya hadn't yet grown properly into the role of a finisher. In their absence, the Nidahas Trophy serves as an ideal platform for Hooda to put himself on the selector's radar and he is up for the challenge.
"I would like to bat at No 5 if I get an opportunity. But if not that, I would bat wherever the team needs me and I would try to give my best," remarked the 22-year old.
Before he was selected for the Nidahas Trophy, Hooda was also retained by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction. He has always been rated highly in the shortest format, his value first came to notice in 2016 when he was notched up by SRH for Rs 4.2 crore, 42 times his base price of Rs 10 lakh.
Consistent performances have ensured that the stakes of the Baroda all-rounder haven't dropped. Almost four teams were in the bidding war to acquire his services before his former team used the Right to Match card to retain him for Rs 3.6 crore.
"I was not following the IPL auction," said Hooda. "But it was heartening to see that Sunrisers Hyderabad were backing me and trusted in me. Main khush tha ki main phir Hyderabad ke sath hoo, mujhe phir se koi naya dressing room join nahi karna padega (I was happy that I got back with Hyderabad and wouldn't have to join a new dressing room)."
The upcoming IPL will be Hooda's third year with SRH and he will now be a part of their core team. When questioned if there would be extra pressure on him, he answered, " There is no question of pressure. It all depends on the situation of the match. But I am looking forward to the challenges. They have shown a lot trust in me so it will be beneficial for the team if I stay calm and focus on how I can perform for my team without taking any extra pressure."
The year 2018 has begun on a good note for Hooda and his career is on the right path. He might be a shy and reserved person but his focus remains immaculate and he is ready to give his '100 percent if given an opportunity.'