Hooda’s fearless cricket sets him apart: Irfan Pathan

When Deepak Hooda was hitting those big sixes for Punjab Kings against Rajasthan Royals on Monday night, his father Jagbir was finding it difficult to control his emotions.

Because Jagbir knew what his son had gone through over the past six months. Hooda silenced his critics, who had left no stone unturned in maligning his reputation and barred him from playing cricket for the entire season, with a 28-ball 64 (6×6; 4×4).

The 25-year-old all-rounder was suspended for the season by Baroda cricket body after a spat with captain Krunal Pandya in January. It meant Hooda could not play the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-dayers.

“It was a very tough phase for Deepak. He was facing a tough time due to his teammates. Living in a bio-bubble ahead of a tournament and being away from family made things worse. He did raise his voice to the treatment he was meted out, but, unfortunately, was banned for a season. He was down and needed counselling and support,” said Jagbir from the Hooda house in Vadodara’s Manjalpur.

“That’s when Irfan Pathan and Yusuf Pathan stepped in. They looked after Deepak and were there for him at the nets. He missed playing for the state (Baroda),” said Jagbir, who worked in the administrative office of Indian Air Force for 29 years for before taking a voluntary retirement five years ago.

The Pathan brothers have been mentoring Hooda since he started playing age-specific cricket for Baroda. The former India players have been vocal about Hooda’s talent.

“The Pathan brothers provided Deepak the motivation and encouragement he required after he was suspended. He needed to be mentally strong as everyone was pointing fingers at him after the suspension. They would go to the Gujarat Police ground and the Moti Bagh ground and train for hours on both the red soil and black soil. He put all his energy in training. And then he knew he could make an impression in the IPL and show the world his talent. I am happy he played brilliantly against Rajasthan Royals,” said Jagbir.

The right-handed Hooda had smashed a 30-ball unbeaten 62 against Chennai Super Kings in the last competitive game he played before Monday, on November 1, 2020.

“I was just reacting to the ball and showing aggressive intent in my batting. I got this role at No. 4 and I am happy as I bat at this position in domestic cricket,” said Hooda, who was pushed up the order ahead of Nicholas Pooran and has played for Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Hooda played a season for Haryana before moving to Baroda in 2010 and made his first-class debut in 2014. In November 2017, he was in the India squad for the T20I series against Sri Lanka. In February 2018, Hooda was named in India’s T20I squad for the 2018 Nidahas Trophy but did not play.

“He is a fine talent. He is someone who can serve India and do well. The kind of knock he played against Rajasthan Royals shows his mental strength and in the manner he played fearless cricket definitely sets him apart from others. He used the middle overs well and hit the ball hard in the right spots. And the fact that he was promoted up the order provided him the chance to express himself,” said Irfan Pathan, who is the mentor-cum-coach of Jammu & Kashmir team.

“He is a very fit cricketer. His yo-yo score usually touches 18. Much cricket is left in the tournament, more impactful knocks should be expected from him and I hope he gets to roll his arm and showcase his overall all-round skills. He knows he has missed out on a lot of cricket this season, I am sure he will be hungry for more,” said Irfan Pathan, who also praised Punjab Kings’ left-arm medium-pacer Arshdeep Singh for his brilliant last over.

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