Irfan Pathan likens Deepak Hooda’s passion for cricket to a kid in a candy store. He just likes the “taste” of a cricket pitch. “He likes the taste of cricket, just like chocolate,” says the former Indian all-rounder. After a rather eventful 2021 when he left his home team Baroda following a well-documented feud with skipper Krunal Pandya, Hooda has earned his first call-up to the Indian ODI team for the home series against the West Indies.
The batting all-rounder was also named to the Indian T20 squad in 2017 but did not play. With India looking for long-term solutions to their shaky middle class, the 26-year-old has a good chance of making a highly anticipated debut next month.
The roster marks the culmination of a rollercoaster ride of the past 12 months for Hooda who displayed remarkable mental strength to overcome a dark phase in his career.
Six months after being stormed out of the Baroda team hotel over his feud with Krunal, Hooda joined Rajasthan for the 2021-2022 season as a professional.
Usually, outstation players, who join smaller teams, get an extra fee on top of their match fee, but his frame of mind was such that Hooda never spoke money to the RCA officials.
He was very eager to get back to playing and with Rajasthan looking for a tried and true performer like him to nurture the local talent it was a win-win for both sides.
“He just wanted to play. Never asked for a fee that professional players usually ask for. We knew the circumstances in which he came to us. It was a win-win. We needed a batting all-rounder like him and someone who could lead the local players.
“We are proud that he was able to do a good job for us, leading him to be selected for India,” RCA Secretary Mahender Sharma told PTI.
He was the second-highest finisher in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, his first match, before becoming captain for the next Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he scored a century against Karnataka.
Pathan, who has mentored Hooda since he started playing for Baroda in 2013, also recalled that difficult period for the Rohtak-born cricketer and how he ended up in Rajasthan.
“It’s a true story. A lot of teams wanted him. He didn’t care about the money. He just wanted to go out and play and that’s the kind of character he is. He’s a kid in a candy store when it comes to cricket and he just loves it.
“He doesn’t care about other benefits and stuff. Some decision makers (at RCA) were also surprised that he didn’t talk about money. He didn’t talk about commercials,” Pathan said.
The former Indian pacer helped Hooda during his low phase last year, but now feels there’s little point in dwelling on what happened.
“I don’t want him to talk about it. I just want him to be grateful that he was selected for India.
“He was in a really good frame of mind. And whenever I spoke to him, he always talked a lot about Baroda cricket, which gave him a great platform. He’s very grateful for that.”
“All credit to him, all credit to his family, they managed him well and it wasn’t easy and he got out.” Hooda, whose father works in the Indian Air Force, may be India’s answer to their middle-class problems, Pathan believes.
The two recently spent time at Moti Bagh Stadium in Baroda before Pathan left for Oman to play in the Legends League.
“I was there with him 10 days ago and I saw his strike as well. Those who follow the domestic circuit know that if you are hitting well in Moti Bagh (green surface), you are actually hitting well.
“He must have hit two sessions, each session at least 300 to 400 balls. He barely played away from his body. The ball does a little bit and 95 percent of the time he was in control.”
“And I was like, ‘wow, if he gets selected now, he will score points for India’. Most importantly, he also has excellent fielding skills and the ability to bowl both in the power play and the old ball with a new ball. ball,” said Pathan.
Listing more reasons for his potential success as a middle-class batter, Pathan added, “So what do you want in a middle-class batter? Can you maneuver the shot? Can you play singles and doubles regularly? Yes, he can because he got excellent wrists.
“He has a very good game on the leg side. He has improved his offside a lot.
“He has nice supple wrists, which is very important… Can he accelerate when he’s ready? That’s because he has those big shots too.”
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