IPL 2021: The untold story of comeback man Deepak Hooda

Deepak Hooda had an evening to remember at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday as he smashed the fastest half-century by an uncapped Indian player in the Indian Premier League.

Promoted in the batting order, ahead of Nicholas Pooran, he went hammer and tongs at the Rajasthan Royals bowlers – bringing up his 50 in just 20 balls. While the cricketing world was mesmerised by Hooda’s brilliance on the field, far away in Vadodara, it was time for redemption for his family.

The last few months were challenging not only for the 25-year-old, but also for the entire Hooda family – who made sure that he remained confident and well prepared for the IPL, despite being suspended by the Baroda Cricket Association on the grounds of ‘indiscipline’.

In January, on the eve of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy opener, Hooda left the Baroda state team’s bio-bubble after an alleged spat with India international and the team captain Krunal Pandya, which led to the BCA suspending him for the entire season.

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“It was a setback for sure. The fast few days were really stressful as we were all hapless. Deepak would not speak to anyone, and it was evident that he was deeply hurt. After all, for a cricketer, it is not easy when you miss out the entire season,” Hooda’s father Jagbir Singh Hooda, told Sportstar.

While the family tried to boost the confidence of the player, former India cricketers – Irfan and Yusuf Pathan – too, came forward to help him. “It was a tough time for all of us, but we are extremely grateful that people like Irfan and Yusuf constantly backed him and ensured that he had enough training for the IPL. We knew that it won’t be possible to get any game time, but he never stopped training for a single day,” Jagbir said.

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He remembers the time when Hooda along with his younger brother Ashish would train regularly at the Motibaug ground and the Police ground in Vadodara. “Irfan and Yusuf would guide him with training and Ashish would give him throwdowns. Since there were no competitive cricket, it was the best possible way to prepare him for the IPL. And at home, we ensured that no one spoke about his suspension or the incident. Our effort was to keep a happy space and encourage him to bounce back.”

The Pathan brothers, who have seen Hooda grow as a cricketer, would train him in turns. When Irfan was in town, he would spend long hours with Hooda and work on his batting techniques and mindset. And when he was away on professional commitments, Yusuf would monitor Hooda’s training.

“At that stage, it was important to boost his self-belief and we would talk about how he should focus not just about the IPL but also about making it to the Indian team. After he was done with his batting, I would ask him to bowl to me, and he would do that. It was important to motivate him,” Irfan said.

A few years ago, Hooda broke into the Indian squad but had to warm the bench and Irfan believes that a good IPL season can once again open windows of opportunities for the Baroda boy. “Hooda is a genuine No.4 batsman who can emerge as a match winner. He has the ability to perform well and some good games in the IPL will do him a piece of good,” Irfan said.

After the suspension, there was uncertainty on whether Hooda will be able to feature in the IPL, but Punjab Kings – under coach Anil Kumble – showed faith in the youngster and he delivered in the opening fixture.

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