Around this time last year, Deepak Hooda did not know whether he would be able to ever play cricket again.

In January 2021, he had left the Baroda team’s bio-bubble on the eve of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy opener, after an alleged spat with India international and the team captain Krunal Pandya. That move led to the Baroda Cricket Association suspending him for the entire season. Hooda confined himself to his room and would hardly interact with family and friends. He thought there won’t be another chance.

Cut to February 6, 2022.

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As the Indian team played its 1000th ODI against the West Indies at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Hooda made his debut. After a long wait, life, indeed, came a full circle for the all-rounder.

‘Proud moment’

“As parents, we are very proud of him. After having gone through so much in the last one year, we know what this means for him. After he was suspended, there were times when Deepak wanted to quit the game, but Irfan and Yusuf (Pathan) ensured that he did not give up,” Hooda’s father Jagbir Singh Hooda told Sportstar on Sunday.

“I cannot thank Irfan and Yusuf enough. It was because of them that Deepak realised that not all was lost. Slowly, he returned to training. And to see him donning the India cap is a really proud moment,” the father said.

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Hooda was part of the Indian squad in 2017-18, but could not break into the final eleven. After breaking to the team, Hooda had told this publication that he does not want to miss out on an opportunity. “It took me five years to get another opportunity. To be honest, ahead of every season, I thought that this time I would break into the team, but that never happened. But the last one year taught me that you have to wait for your opportunity,” he had said, minutes after earning an India call-up.

During the ‘dark phase’, the Hooda family and the Pathan brothers - Irfan and Yusuf - made sure that Hooda remained confident and well prepared for the IPL, despite being suspended by the BCA on the grounds of ‘indiscipline.’

‘Incredible moment’

While the family tried to boost the confidence of the player, Irfan and Yusuf slowly got him back to training. They would spend hours with him in the nets at the Motibaug ground and the Police ground in Vadodara, making sure that Hooda did not feel demotivated.

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“It is an incredible moment to see Deepak breaking into the playing eleven. I have always felt that he is a fine cricketer and can be very useful in ODIs and T20s. He is a genuine batter who can also bowl - so going forward, he can contribute a lot to the Indian team. I am really happy for him. He worked really hard over the last one year and it has finally paid off,” Irfan said.

Talking about how they inspired Hooda to not lose hope, Irfan said, “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…”

While he had a decent outing in the IPL with Punjab Kings, ahead of this domestic season, Hooda took another big decision - he parted ways with Baroda and moved to Rajasthan.

‘Re-birth’

It was walking into the unknown, but the move worked wonders for Hooda as he became the second highest run-getter in the tournament, amassing 294 runs in six games. Soon, the Rajasthan Cricket Association appointed him as the captain for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he scored 198 in six matches - including a century against Karnataka.

By his own admission, that move was like a ‘re-birth’ and after making opportunities count in the domestic circuit, Hooda has finally entered the big league. Dreams do come true.