He was for long considered a 'good prospect' -- primarily a domestic player with effective but limited abilities. That typecast of being considered good enough only for the domestic circuit and not for the international stage bothered him for long. To break into the big league, Deepak Hooda had to transform from a raw, reckless and aggressive bloke to a matured, focused and full-of-intent cricketer. And the result of such a change is for everyone to see, helping him become only the fourth Indian batter (after Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Suresh Raina) to hit a century in T20Is.
After an impressive 2022 Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign for debutants Lucknow Super Giants, he has successfully carried his form into the internationals, hitting a superb 104 runs off 54 deliveries, helping India win their second T20I vs Ireland by four runs, assisting them in clinching the two-match series 2-0. The 27-year-old was the highest impact player of the series and accumulated the highest aggregate of 151 runs at a strike rate of 175.58.
His coach Sanjiv Sawant, trainer Manoj Singh and his father Jagbir Hooda spoke about the "secret" behind his transformation.
"He was always a talented young player. When he first came to our academy he was just eight or nine. He was more of a bowler than a batsman He gradually started batting when the team needed him lower down the order. At first he was a slog hitter, who hit long sixes but did not spend much time at the crease. It was another matter that he did not get much of a chance to bat either. He was raw and aggressive but bowled very accurately, concentrating on hitting towards a designated spot continuously. He didn't turn the ball too much, but his accuracy ensured that batters had to play in certain areas. That allowed him time to work on dismissing batters, suddenly extracting spin and bounce to surprise them," Sanjiv Sawant, his childhood coach and a former Baroda batter, told News9 Sports over the phone.
He pointed out that Hooda's interest in batting gradually grew when he understood that he could turnaround matches from losing positions.
"From a slog hitter to a finisher to a confident batsman who could bat up the order -- we tried him in all positions in local and age group matches and he excelled in all positions. All this while he was a useful match-winning bowler. But earlier, he used to throw his wickets away after playing some rash shots. Now, he looks much more focused and his intent is quite clear."
Floating around in the middle order for Lucknow, he scored 451 runs at a strike rate of 136.67 in IPL 2022. Only Orange Cap winner Rajasthan Royals' Jos Buttler aggregated more runs than Hooda in the middle overs period (seven-16) in this edition.
The Baroda batter, with a reputation for being a big hitter in the domestic circuit, was the second-highest run getter in the 2021-22 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, smashing 294 runs in six matches at a scoring rate of 168 with four fifties. He has represented India in two ODIs and five T20Is so far.
His trainer Manoj Singh, a side arm specialist who has been working with him for the last two years, said: "Deepak bhai practices for three to four hours twice a day. He does long net sessions. He does all the drills and has worked on his mindset a lot. He practices with a lot of intensity. His biggest strength is his ability to adopt to new situations and transform his game accordingly. He has worked on his technique. He keeps telling me to bowl in certain areas. He is keen on playing side arm throws at a speed of nearly 150 kms per hour."
Hooda made his IPL debut for Rajasthan Royals against Kings XI Punjab on April 10, 2015 and scored 30 off 15 balls. In their next match against Delhi Daredevils, he scored his maiden half-century (54 off 25 balls) and was adjudged the man of the match. Hooda scored his first double-century in first-class cricket in the 2016–17 Ranji Trophy.
In the 2016 IPL auction, Hooda was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs 4.2 crore. He was retained ahead of the 2017 auction but was released before the 2020 auction, to be bought by the Punjab Kings. In the 2022 auction, LSG forked out Rs 5.75 crore for his services.
His father Jagbir Hooda, an Airforce personnel and a kabaddi player for Services, said the transformation in his son is really noticeable and praiseworthy.
"He always loved to play cricket. But he is now more sincere than ever before. His focus is only to play cricket in whatever level he gets to play. He goes to the ground in early morning every single day to train. Practices for hours and comes back in the evening. He does not do anything else. He does not have any private life. He has grown very dedicated as a cricketer. He knows that he has to work very hard to find a place at the top level consistently."