Centurion Deepak Hooda stakes claim in World Cup audition
Deepak Hooda caps breakout season with record 176-run stand in series-sealing win for India
You could probably see it coming—Deepak Hooda finally throwing his hat in the ring. There were enough feelers too. A clean striker of the ball, Hooda was given a top-order position by Lucknow Super Giants 15 IPL games in a row this season and he milked that opportunity to aggregate a career-best 451 runs at an average of 32.21. Then came the chance to become makeshift opener in the truncated first T20I on Sunday and Hooda again weighed in with a 29-ball 47 under overcast skies on a damp Malahide pitch.
The sun came out on Tuesday, the pitch turned into a belter and Hooda knew this had to be his redemption day. A 55-ball hundred (104 off 57 balls) and a record partnership—a 176-run second-wicket stand with Sanju Samson, India’s highest in T20Is—later, you know he is here to stay.
In a mighty show of bench strength, India thus have another T20 World Cup squad claimant in Hooda. He stays tall till the last second, isn’t afraid to pull and knows where his off-stump is. But more telling was that no-holds barred intent that saw Hooda punching Joshua Little down the pitch for a boundary after successfully reviewing a leg-before decision the previous ball.
Ireland’s inexperience showed in the lengths that Hooda and Samson (77 off 42) had no problem gobbling up. And the bounce of the pitch too helped batters play through the line.
"Between the first and second game, I think there was a difference in the pitch,” said Hooda after India’s last-ball four-run win in the second T20I. “In the first game, the conditions were overcast and the wicket was damp. But today the wicket was very good for batting, as is clear by the way both teams batted. So I felt the wicket was a big factor.”
Opening the batting in the first game was possibly the riskiest venture Hooda was eased into after Ruturaj Gaikwad felt a calf niggle. "To be honest, I was very nervous. But I was fortunate enough that I have very good partners at the non-striker's end, and they guided me. The pressure was gone,” said Hooda. “I had never opened in an international game. But being a top-order batsman, you have to cope with the challenges. And if you don't have any option, then why don't you go there like a warrior. That's how I think, and things turned my way. I'm happy about that.”
As much as it is about intent, there are also some shots that tell you what vein of form Hooda is in. His first long hit was off a belligerent pull after Mark Adair tried to test him with a bouncer. With decisive feet movement Hooda quickly switched into position and deposited that delivery over fine-leg boundary.
Much later came a bigger sign, when Hooda stayed back in his crease and used Little’s pace to deftly dab the ball past third man for a four. You knew he was on. There was a fair share of muscle as well, as exhibited in a swatted six over deep square-leg or a huge six over long-on with a golf swing like backlift. Every shot told you Hooda wasn’t backing away from putting everything out there and pleading his case as India ponder their final World Cup squad.
"Yes it is difficult to find a spot in the Indian team and then staying there,” said Hooda. “But at the same time when you're playing in India colours, that time you never think about yourself, you think about the team. That's what I think about on the ground: ‘How can I contribute to the team in that situation'. I don't think more than that, try to keep things simple. It's a matter of pride for me that I'm playing for India, no matter if I'm scoring or not.
That Hooda desperately wanted that hundred was evident in him taking 10 balls to move from 91 to 100 after cantering through the first 80-odd runs. But that’s one concession almost every batter worth his salt is allowed if the team innings isn’t compromised. And in all fairness, Hooda needed this hundred to reinforce this belief that he can be a viable No 3 or No 4 in the long run. But he also believes in giving himself a reality check.
“Being a cricketer, what I've learnt lately is that you should not think too far ahead. You look at it one game at a time. If my work ethic is good, I'm going to be in a good space of mind and I'm going to score, that's my thinking. Try to keep it simple, live in the present, play the situation well, and then automatically the outcome will come. Now or later, it will come,” he said.