When Deepak Hooda was 11, he went to his father with a request not uncommon among boys of his age in India. He wanted to become a cricketer. However Jagbir Hooda, an Indian Air Force employee and a former district-level Kabaddi player, sounded a note of caution. “I have been a sportsperson myself, and I know it is not easy to make it big in sports. Deepak was good at studies, so I was naturally apprehensive,” Hooda senior said. Luckily for him, Jagbir took Deepak to Ravinder Paul Sharma, who runs Young Friends Cricket Club in the Capital.
“Jagbir brought Deepak and his younger brother Ashish to me. I still remember Deepak was very fond of bowling off-spin, but he used to jerk his arm. In order to dissuade him from bowling, I encouraged him to bat and keep wickets,” Sharma told HT.
Hooda trained under Sharma for four years when Jagbir’s transfer brought the family to Vadodara six years back.
“He was very hard working and sincere. He may be known for his big hits today, but back then I never encouraged him to hit hard. Only after he came to grips with technique and began to come in line of the balls did I allow him to hit the way he does. By the time he played under –15 and under-16 for Haryana, he could hit the ball real hard,” Sharma added.
Hooda’s unbeaten 293, scored at a strike rate of 82.76 bears testimony to Sharma’s claims. That strike rate was close to 90 for better part of his innings, but the fall of No. 10 Murtuja Vohra meant Hooda had to farm the strike and shield Munaf Patel from the Punjab bowlers. Patel survived 28 balls for his solitary run before guiding Shubek Gill to Uday Kaul at wide third-slip, leaving his skipper tantalisingly short of what could have been this season’s only third triple ton.
“I was obviously disappointed, but 293 is not a small score. I’d like to give credit to Munaf bhai as well, who batted with me for about an hour. If he was dismissed early, I would have been stranded at 260-odd,” Hooda said.
The 21-year-old was among the few bright spots in India’s dismal campaign at the under-19 World Cup in 2014. He was India’s second-highest run-getter at that tournament, scoring 235 from six games at an average of 78.33. He didn’t do too badly with the ball either, taking 11 wickets, next only to Kuldeep Yadav. Next year, Hooda had a stupendous first-class debut, when in addition to becoming only the second Baroda batsman to score a ton on first-class debut, he scored 557 runs at an average of 50.63. The right-hander has notched up 511 runs in this season already, scoring a ton each time he has batted.
A self -confessed Kevin Pietersen fan, he had a breakout IPL debut in 2015, where his 151 runs for Rajasthan Royals came at a strike rate of 158.94. It brought his big-hitting credentials- that had earned him the sobriquet ‘Hurricane’- to the fore, and he was snapped by eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs. 4.2 crore this year. He failed to live up to the hype though, managing 144 runs from 17 matches. There was, however, a bigger takeaway. “During IPL, my interaction with Tom Moody at Sunrisers Hyderabad helped me get mentally strong. Also VVS Laxman (at SRH) gave me confidence to score big. I have worked on my mental strength and certain aspects of the game. I have also worked on the specific shots that I can play in longer format,” he said.
All this has meant that Jagbir has left his skepticism behind, and plans to accompany his elder son in all the first-class matches this season. “He still has a long way to go,” the proud dad tells us. Coach Sharma, however, is prophetic: “If everything goes well, and if he remains injury-free, Hooda will make it to the Indian team in two years.” We’ll have to wait and watch for that.