Deepak Hooda, the Baroda allrounder, has admitted that failure to put a price on his wicket has curtailed his progress in first-class cricket, specially after a prolific start to the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy, when he scored three centuries in four innings, including an unbeaten 293.
Hooda, 22, gained prominence after the Under-19 World Cup in 2014 and some daring cameos in IPL 2015 for Rajasthan Royals. This eventually fetched him a princely sum of INR 4.2 crore from Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL 2016 auction. However, Hooda's performances since then have been inconsistent.
Part of the India A team for the one-dayers against the touring New Zealand A side in October, Hooda returned a half-century and an unbeaten 35, coupled with two wickets in four matches - modest, at best. Once he returned to the first-class set-up, he was entrusted with the captaincy after the selectors left out the experienced Irfan Pathan in a bid to look for better results.
Baroda, languishing in the bottom half of Group C, needed Hooda's heroics desperately to turn around their campaign. The team nearly pulled off a coup in Mumbai's historic 500th Ranji Trophy match, with Hooda contributing 75 in Baroda's total of 575 for 9. However, as has been the case in the past, his inability to convert a start into big runs stood out.
"Yes, that's (form in first-class cricket) been a bit of a concern to a certain extent," Hooda told ESPNcricinfo after the match on Sunday. "But red-ball cricket is a different proposition altogether. I try and limit my strokeplay, and not try and do anything fancy. The more I abstain from offering shots to deliveries, the more compact I feel. Less is more and better. I have about seven hundreds so far, but I reckon there could have been two or three more, easily."
Last season, Hooda accumulated 789 runs in 13 innings, but his form tapered off after a strong start. While his first four innings yielded 557 runs, in the next nine innings, he scored in double-figures on only four occasions. Overall, in addition to seven first-class hundreds, Hooda has seven fifties in the format. After the match against Mumbai, he admitted his vulnerability after crossing a score of 70, a weakness underlined by the fact that four of his seven fifties have been scores of 75, 85, 86, 98.
"I tend to lose my wicket after nearing that 70-run mark. Kabhi jaldi jaldi runs banane ke chakkar mein ho jata hain. [It happens in my urge to score quickly sometimes]. If you look at the game against Mumbai, I was going well, but failed to value my wicket after I got to 75. That shot [pulled one straight to deep midwicket] was what you can call a pretty needless one. But these are important learnings for me, and I am sure I will apply myself better the next time."
Despite the challenges, Hooda considers himself fortunate to have had mentors like former India batsman VVS Laxman at Sunrisers Hyderabad. Hooda admits he felt low at certain times during IPL 2016, his first season with the franchise, where he scored 144 runs in 15 innings at an average of 10.28. It was Laxman who drove into him the need to be calm when confronted by tough situations and to work on consistency.
"To be in the company of VVS sir is a matter of great fortune. I was feeling very low at one point last season," he said. "VVS sir explained to me how every cricketer goes through their share of highs and lows - everybody has a graph with peaks and troughs. But, to succeed at this level, I should learn to keep my graph steady - zyada upar neeche nahi hona chaiye. (shouldn't be too up and down).
"I need to be mentally steady even when things may not be going my way. I have tried to follow his advice ever since. A positive outlook towards life and cricket has been my biggest takeaway from my time with Sunrisers. Earlier, I'd do a lot of overthinking on both fronts, and I would mostly rely on my instincts. But ab cricket ka sense thoda aaney lag gaya hain (Now, I've developed cricketing sense)."
At 19, Hooda was fast-tracked into the Baroda senior side on the back of an impressive two-year run in the youth ODIs that culminated with the Under-19 World Cup in 2014. Now, having got a taste of top-level cricket across formats, his sole objective for the near future is to fulfill the dream of playing for India, one that has been collectively nurtured by him and his family. "Consistency at first-class, IPL, can help me achieve that."