After a long wait, Deepak Hooda’s time has come

After being ignored for nearly five years, Deepak Hooda one day asked Irfan Pathan why wasn’t he getting his chances to play for India? Hooda believed that he had it in him to play for the country, but things weren’t going his way.

Irfan, the former India all-rounder had a one-liner to pacify his junior in the Baroda team: “Apna time aayega”.

Eight years after making his Baroda debut, Hooda’s time eventually came, when he was picked for the upcoming three-match home ODI series against the West Indies.

Irfan’s one-liner predated the Bollywood rap that became a hit. There was another piece of advice that got stuck with Hooda: “Be calm and just go through the process.”

Train hard, look after your fitness and diet; that’s process in a nutshell for a sportsperson. Work ethic and determination embellish it. Hooda began his “process” three years ago. Quietly, he followed the routine in Baroda. In fact, he internalised it, striving to play for his country. A staggering Rs 4.2 crore IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2016 didn’t satiate his desire. Playing for India has always been his Holy Grail.

“I slowly got close to Irfan bhai and Yusuf (Pathan) bhai. They taught me to be calm, they made me realise the power of calmness. As a youngster it was natural to be restless and I was no exception. It was hampering my game. At times, I tried too hard. Tried to overdo things that weren’t needed,” Hooda told The Indian Express.

Irfan’s cricket career had been a roller-coaster ride. After a sparkling start in Australia, the left-arm seamer became a victim of former India coach Greg Chappell’s ‘all-rounder’ experiment, losing his bowling mojo, swing to be precise, in the process. He came back after being written off. So, when he spoke to Hooda, he did it from his personal experience.

Hooda gave the lowdown on the process he followed. “I remember Irfan bhai telling me the importance of preparation and process. Doing the same thing over and over again, without expecting anything from anyone. So, be it the gym sessions, training at the nets and following a strict diet; I always maintained a good work ethic. It paid off.”

In search for the right balance, the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee has loaded the white-ball squads with all-rounders. Hooda being a flatish off-spin bowler and a hard-hitting batsman, has made the cut. His List A strike rate is north of 93, his T20 strike rate is touching 139. The ODI squad also has Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur alongside him as all-rounders. Washington is expected to be the team’s first-choice spin-bowling all-rounder. But Hooda’s ability to go ballistic with the bat is a currency that the 26-year-old carries.

“People wondered and doubts crept in pretty often, but Irfan bhai always told me one line, ‘Apna time aayega’,” Hooda said. And when he got frustrated, he found his younger brother was by his side, ready to share the pain.

“Whenever I got frustrated I took it all on my younger brother, who is now a sports manager. He was also a cricketer, so he understands what are the things player sometimes go through,” Hooda said.

In 2020, he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. He fought with Baroda captain Krunal Pandya and left the bio-bubble, when he found that his name was missing from the 15-member squad for the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy.

In 2021, he moved to Rajasthan, a move that had a touch of inevitability. Hooda recalled: “I saw the ups and downs and then everyone knows what happened in Baroda. I moved to another state last year. It was a new journey but Rajasthan welcomed me. All the hard work has paid off. I didn’t get an answer initially, why I was picked and why I was dropped. It was a challenging time. I wanted to know why I was not picked. I became desparate, desparate to be picked again and just wanted to be in the team.”

During the last IPL, he spoke to Anil Kumble, and the legendary leg-spinner, too, said Hooda had it in him to play for India again. A thank you to Kumble was due as well.

“I would also like to thank Anil bhai, because Punjab Kings gave me a chance in two IPL seasons, people there saw that I still have something in me. I always backed myself. I always believed… Try, try until your last breath.”

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