The last few months have been a fairytale for Deepak Hooda. From being just another young cricketer waiting in the wings, he has gone on to become of the talking points of Indian cricket.
After making his debut in the Indian team against West Indies in February, Hooda grabbed an Indian Premier League contract with the Lucknow Super Giants for ₹5.75 crore.
In the 15 matches that he featured in, Hooda went on to score 451 runs, becoming one of the anchors in the middle-order for the Lucknow outfit. Consistent performances in the tournament also helped him cement his spot for the home series against South Africa beginning next month.
“It was a learning experience for sure, playing for a new team with new responsibilities. So far, this has been a good year for me and I am really looking forward to keep the momentum going. This tournament has taught me a lot,” Hooda told Sportstar on Friday.
Like many of his friends, the last two months have been tiring as well as exciting for the 27-year-old. He was just another young talent for Punjab Kings till last season, but the Super Giants team management had faith in Hooda. After scoring a few half-centuries in the group stage, Hooda chipped in with a 45 in the Eliminator against Royal Challengers Bangalore at Eden Gardens on Thursday, even though his efforts were not enough to guide the team home.
“It was certainly a heartbreak 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 being the first season, not many thought we would be so consistent but we were able to do so. We were consistent throughout the tournament and even came closer to fulfilling our dreams. But we will take it as a learning and come back stronger next year,” Hooda said.
In the last couple of editions of the IPL, Hooda had played under the leadership of K. L. Rahul at Punjab Kings and this time, with Rahul taking over as the captain of Super Giants, things got slightly easier for him. “I have known him (Rahul) for a long time and I know what he expects from his players and how he operates, so that certainly helped. GG bhai and Rahul have actually helped a lot in terms of approaching the matches and how to handle tricky situations,” Hooda said.
“Those little things mattered a lot for me and also helped me in contributing the team…”
While he had worked with Rahul in the past, this was Hooda’s first encounter with mentor Gambhir. After spending more than two months with the former India player, Hooda was extremely impressed with Gambhir’s style of handling a team. “The best thing I liked about GG bhai is that he speaks his mind. For the betterment of the team, he does not shy away from saying what needs to be said. He is not someone who would sugarcoat stuff, if he saw something in you that needed to be worked on, he made it a point to tell that to the person so that he improve,” Hooda said.
“Having worked with Irfan bhai (Pathan) for a long time, I am used to this style of approach – even Irfan bhai doesn’t mince his words if he feels that something needs to be done about a certain thing. GG bhai, too, did that with all of us. It was a great learning for me…”
Last year, Hooda was handed a suspension by the Baroda Cricket Association after he exited the bio-bubble on the eve of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, after an alleged spat with Krunal Pandya. Hooda confined himself to his room and would hardly interact with family and friends. He thought there won’t be another chance, but with the help of Pathan brothers – Irfan and Yusuf – and his family, Hooda could bounce back.
But in this edition of the IPL, Lucknow roped in both Hooda and Krunal. “I think we both acted like matured individuals and ensured that we let go of the past. We were playing for the same team, so we had to be on the same page and both of us ensured that we had a good understanding,” Hooda said.
“In a family, differences happen but then you eventually patch up. So was the case with us. We had differences in the past, but this time, when I met Krunal for the first time before the tournament, we behaved normally and there was no animosity. Maybe, something had happened at the spark of the moment, but then, you have to move on and patch up. We did that and even Krunal was very courteous. It was a great thing…”
With a resumption of cordial relations between the two, the Baroda Cricket Association requested Hooda to return to the Baroda team for next domestic season. But Hooda had made up his mind to not leave Rajasthan. “There have been requests from the BCA that I should return. But I am not leaving Rajasthan and will continue playing for them. In my times of crisis, Rajasthan Cricket Association stood by me (he had joined Rajasthan last year) and encouraged me to return to action and I want to serve the team. I am not the one who would forget those people who stood beside me in tough times,” Hooda said, insisting, “Aap ye zaroor likhna, main Rajasthan se hi khelunga…(Request you to mention this in your write-up)”
That’s Deepak Hooda for you.