Deepak Hooda: A Long Road To Selection For India

Deepak Hooda in action during the 2014 u-19 World Cup.

Republic Day in India is a day where everyone around the nation celebrates India’s independence and unique culture. For Deepak Hooda, it was a day where all his sweat, all the injuries, all the soreness after games and all the disappointments became worth it. His dream had come true. Late on Wednesday evening, it was confirmed that the spinning all-rounder had made an India squad for the first-time in his career. Unsurprisingly, well-wishes poured in from players, friends and relatives after his selection for the Indian side for the ODI series against the West Indies.

Hooda first appeared in the limelight during the 2014 u-19 World Cup in the UAE. The tournament had given a pathway to yet another Indian talent. Hooda’s tournament consisted of him playing a finisher role at number six while also chipping in with handy overs. He finished with 187 runs at an average of 93.5, only being dismissed twice. This included knocks of 68 in the quarterfinals and 76* in the fifth-place playoff which India won. Hooda also chipped in with 2/5 in the quarterfinal and 3/31 in the playoff.

Those performances ultimately led to his purchase in the IPL auction by the Rajasthan Royals. Hooda’s talent was now on show to a much wider cricketing audience and on his IPL debut he played a similar role to that he did for the u-19 side, finishing the innings with an excellent knock of 30 off 15 balls.

In the following game, Hooda’s spin was used effectively as he went for a tidy 20 runs off his four overs, but the real show was later that evening as Hooda blasted a 50 off 25 balls to take Rajasthan Royals home in a big run chase of 186. For a player that was only beginning his career, he had already given the fans a trademark shot – a Kevin Petersen-esque flamingo heave down the ground from deep in his crease.

However, Hooda’s efforts didn’t lead to the higher honours he sought as soon as they probably should have done. The reason for this was his inconsistency. Hooda played for both the Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, and performed for a few games in each season, whilst leaving the selectors scratching their heads as to why he couldn’t reach his potential the rest of the time. This is reflected in Hooda’s stats: having played 61 IPL matches, he only averages 16 and, even for a number seven batter, that is far too low.

Hooda’s career has also been plagued by disciplinary and off-field issues. Before the start of the 2020 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India’s domestic T20 Trophy, Hooda was involved in an off-field spat with his Baroda captain and then-Mumbai Indians star Krunal Pandya. Hooda accused Pandya of being a “bully” and refused to play for the side. This led the Baroda Cricket Association to hand Hooda a season-long ban.

However, from somewhere Hooda had found the fuel he needed to keep his career running. The Punjab Kings became his third IPL team, signing in the 2020 auction for 50 lakh, and while he still wasn’t performing as consistently as he might have liked for his new franchise, Hooda did play a few headline knocks, including a 62* in the final do-or-die clash for Punjab. In the process, Hooda became KL Rahul’s go-to finisher. The following season – Hooda made the move to Rajasthan to further his domestic career.

Perhaps the year off gave Hooda plenty of time to work on his game, perhaps he just needed a change of scenery, but he certainly came back a better player. His scores in the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy were 75* (39), 50 (28), 70* (36), 75 (47) and five. In the 50 over tournament later in the year, Hooda was named captain for the state side. It wasn’t exactly a tournament for him to remember, as in the group stages he only made 89 runs at an average of 17.8. But he stepped up as a leader for his team in the knockouts, playing a lone hand to score 110 of Rajasthan’s 200 runs in a crushing quarterfinal loss.

That consistent level in the one-day game – he averages close to 39, and 45 in recent seasons – has earned him a long-awaited India call-up. His explosive performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy have helped too, along with the fact that India is looking for an outright finisher who can also give them a few overs. While one may argue that Venkatesh Iyer has given the axe far too quickly after just one series, Hooda has been presented an opportunity of a lifetime and his talent certainly deserves it. For Hooda it is now time to deliver at the biggest stage of them all.

Main photo from Getty  Images.