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How Hooda bided his time and helped India finish strong

Despite starting slow, India's No. 6 pounced on his opportunities and attacked spin better than any of his team-mates

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
When Deepak Hooda came out to bat in the opening T20I against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, India had been strangled by spin, reduced to 77 for 4 in the 11th over. The pitch wasn't a standard Wankhede surface, where batters could freely play their shots and rely on boundaries.
Maheesh Theekshana was bowling flat, short of length and not giving any width. One such delivery trapped debutant Shubman Gill lbw on the back foot for 7. Sanju Samson went after Dhananjaya de Silva's offbreaks in the seventh over to up the scoring rate, but he miscued one to short third for 5. When Wanindu Hasaranga came on with Ishan Kishan attacking, he sent down one googly after another and had the batter caught at deep midwicket off a slog sweep.
After 11 overs, Sri Lanka's spinners had bowled five for just 22 runs, and bagged three of the four wickets. India were on a precarious 78 for 4 and ESPNcricinfo's forecaster predicted a total of around 152, which would be below par on a ground with short boundaries, especially with dew expected later and Arshdeep Singh slidelined with illness.
Hooda was beaten on the first ball he faced, another wrong'un from Hasaranga, before he patiently took singles off his next eight balls, six of which were bowled by spinners. With five overs to go, India were only 101, now with Hardik Pandya also back in the dugout. The forecaster predicted 142.
Theekshana returned to finish his last over and bowled a rare loose, short ball. Hooda had faced nine deliveries by then without a single boundary, but he was ready. The nature of T20 cricket is such that even if your team is on the back foot, you must seize the moment if you spot an opportunity. Hooda didn't have time to go deep in his crease, but he transferred his weight enough on the back foot and pulled a mighty six.
Next ball, perhaps to compensate for the short one, Theekshana pitched too full and Hooda was ready again. This time, he leaned into the ball and blasted it for another six in the same direction. India's run rate shot up from 6.73 to 7.37 and they were on course for 157 now, according to ESPNcricinfo's predictor.
"That was his [Theekshana's] last over and there was a loose ball also, and in T20, you have to keep your intent high all the time to hit the ball if it's in your area," Hooda said after the game. "So Axar and I thought that was the perfect time to target the bowlers. And that's what we executed."
That over marked a clear shift in momentum, and Hooda swung it further India's way by going after the bowlers who had contained his team-mates.
Hasaranga conceded only four singles off the first five balls in his final over, but he erred with his last delivery. And Hooda was waiting. The short ball, at 95.4kmph, was much quicker than Theekshana's, yet Hooda found the time to rock back, open up his body towards leg, and pivot for such a powerful pull that he ended up facing deep midwicket at the end of his follow through.
The pull was Hooda's most productive shot in the first T20I, fetching him 13 runs off just three balls. There was also a huge gulf between him and the other India batters when it came to facing spin: Hooda scored 26 off 13 balls (with three sixes) while his team-mates scored 31 off 41 balls (one four). His unbeaten 41 off 23 balls and partnership of 68 off 35 with Axar Patel lifted India to a 162.
Hooda knows what's expected of him at No. 6 and how to go about his job.
"It was very clear that we had to build partnerships after we lost early wickets," Hooda said. "You have to be ready for such situations when you're batting in the lower order, at No. 6. There can be a collapse any time and it was not a collapse today as such, we were in a good position early on. But yes, that's the role of a No. 6 or 7.
"That's what the game demands: that you play according to the wicket and post a decent total. That's what I was thinking while batting as a No. 6 that I had to do the finisher's job."

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo