A week shy of his 20th birthday, Deepak Hooda announced his arrival on the big Indian Premier League stage on Sunday evening, hitting a blistering half-century to power Rajasthan Royals' chase against the Delhi Daredevils.
Last year Hooda was a part of the Indian Under-19 World Cup squad and looked a fine young all-rounder. In the U19 tournament, left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav caught the eye with spectacular feats, but Hooda too held his own — both with the bat and offbreak bowling.
His display at the Kotla led commentator Harsha Bhogle to tweet, "If Deepak Hooda can work on his off spin, there is a fine talent in the pipeline. He looked good at the U19 World Cup but nothing like this."
Hooda's 54 off 25 balls was studded with three boundaries and four sixes. His knock kept Royals in the hunt as they chased 185 for win. The match turned out to be a last-ball thriller.
With three runs needed off the last ball, Tim Southee smashed Angelo Mathews for a four to take the Royals to a three-wicket win. Daredevils suffered heartbreak on home ground and their 11th straight defeat in the IPL.
Put into bat, Delhi rode on a 45-run opening start by Mayank Agarwal (37) and Shreyas Iyer (40) to post a challenging 184 for three in 20 overs.
But even on a day that belonged to the 19-year-old Hooda, Delhi leg-spinner Imran Tahir made his presence felt with a four-wicket haul.
Tahir (4-28) and fellow leggie Amit Mishra (2-32) put all the roadblocks they could but No 8 and No 9 batsmen Chris Morris (13 not out) and Tim Southee (7 not out) held their nerves to manage 12 required runs from the last over.
Hooda's and James Faulkner's (17) wicket in the 19th over by Tahir spelt trouble for the visitors, but Mathews could not change Delhi's fortunes in the last over.
Earlier, Hooda had a lucky escape in the 14th over when Yuvraj Singh fluffed a run out chance by spilling a return throw by Mathews at the non-strikers end.
Hooda got lucky again in the next over. Jaydev Unadkat created another opportunity, only to see Manoj Tiwary drop Hooda at deep midwicket and see the ball go over the ropes for a six.
(With inputs from Agencies)