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IT WAS not the kind of start Baroda’s stand-in captain Deepak Hooda would have hoped for after he won the toss and opted to take first strike against Punjab at the Feroz Shah Kotla. His ever-reliable opening duo of Kedar Devdhar and Aditya Waghmode were put in immediate strife by Sandeep Sharma’s swerving deliveries. Their early departure put the onus on the young captain to bail his team out of trouble. And that’s precisely what he did.
Blending caution with aggression, Hooda scored an authoritative century — his sixth in first-class cricket and his third in three matches this Ranji season — to power Baroda to 358/6 at stumps on the opening day of the fourth-round Ranji Trophy encounter.
All his three centuries have come under remarkably diverse set of circumstances. In the first game, he scored 118 in pursuit of Gujarat’s mammoth first-innings score. Against Mumbai at Palam, he struck a breezy 100 not out in an attempt to set an imposing target for the Ranji champions.
On Thursday at the Kotla, he saw off Punjab’s new ball bowlers in the morning session. However, once he got into the groove, he unleashed his dazzling range of strokes, which has only enhanced his reputation and gave ample evidence of his rising stock in domestic cricket. In the process, he took Baroda to a position of ascendancy against Yuvraj Singh’s side.
The standout feature in his knock was the relative ease with which he managed to leave the bulk of the deliveries that were hurled well outside his off-stump. Both Sandeep Sharma and Siddharth Kaul would bowl a sixth-stump line, trying to elicit a false stroke from the 21-year-old. But Hooda did not relent. Instead, he was happy to bide his time, and watch those deliveries thud into the gloves of Punjab’s ‘keeper Gitansh Khera.
To put things into perspective, Hooda faced 215 deliveries to remain unbeaten on 190, of which as many as 110 were dot balls. For a hard-hitting batsman, who has often been labelled as being a tad too impetuous, this is one stat which the Baroda captain would be mighty pleased with.
Not surprisingly, he conceded that this is the facet in his batsmanship that needed improvement.
A KP fan
“Earlier, I would look to get off to a quick start. Of late, I am more judicious in my shot selection, and look to play each ball on its merit,” he said at the end of the day’s play.
Apart from his judicious shot selection, it’s the clinical manner in which he tore into Punjab’s bowlers that made this innings such a delight to watch.
A self-confessed Kevin Pietersen fan, Hooda has modelled his game on the lines of the former England batsman. It was in the afternoon session that Hooda got into his act. It was Punjab’s left-arm spinner Vinay Chowdhury who bore the brunt of his belligerence. The spinner was carted for three sixes — two over long-on and once over long-off.
Tall and wiry, Hooda is nimble-footed and loves to charge down the track to spinners. This style makes him one of the most difficult batsmen to bowl at, as he is quick to get to the pitch of the ball.
Similarly, against faster bowlers, he uses his height to counter the short-pitched deliveries aimed at his ribs. Whenever Punjab’s pacers dug it remotely short, he would get on top of the bounce and orchestrate those emphatic pull shots.
It might look slightly ungainly, but it’s a mighty effective tool on docile tracks at home. This, coupled by his pronounced high back lift and his ability to split the fielders makes Hooda a delightful player to watch.
Between lunch and tea, he motored along from 69 to 141 — scoring 72 runs in as many deliveries. Two defining partnerships — 178 runs for the third wicket with Dhiren Mistry and an 80-run stand with wicketkeeper Pinal Shah proved to be the cornerstone of Baroda’s fightback.
Sandeep came back in the afternoon session to plot a mini-collapse.
Armed with a roughed up ball, the pacer managed to extract prodigious reverse swing. He first got rid of Pinal, and two deliveries later had Yusuf Pathan trapped in front.
However, the two bursts from Sandeep proved to be Punjab’s high points on the opening day. Hooda continued his clobbering act, and along with Swapnil Singh, took them to a position of respectability.
Brief scores: Baroda 358/6 (Deepak Hooda 190 batting, Dhiren Mistry 76; Sandeep Sharma 4/64) vs Punjab.