In 16 T20Is, the 27-year-old has scored 343 runs @ 38.11, including a 57-ball 104 against Ireland at Malahide on June 28, 2022, while batting at No 3. However, that innings failed to see Hooda seal a permanent spot in the team, especially with the established starts still around. From then on began a sequence of being ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the XI for Hooda in India’s T20I team. He endured an ordinary time in the Asia Cup, but it didn’t help that he batted at No 7, and wasn’t even used as a bowler. In the subsequent T20 World Cup in Australia, all he got was one game against South Africa on a tough pitch at Perth, where he was out for a duck, caught behind off Andrich Nortje.
On Tuesday night in the opening T20I against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium, Hooda provided ample proof of how effective he can be at No 6 for India, smashing 4 sixes in an unbeaten 41 off 23 balls that proved to be the difference as India scampered to a 2-run win.
When the Baroda man walked in, India were in dire straits, tottering at 77 for 4 in the 11th over. Soon, when skipper Hardik Pandya departed, the situation became worse at 94 for 5 in the 15th over. Both the classy Lankan spinners, Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana had maintained a stranglehold on the Indian batsmen. India needed someone to take them on, and boom, Hooda did just that.
Taking the attack back to the Lankan tweakers, the Lucknow Supergiants ace went after Theekshana in the 16th over, smoking him for sixes off consecutive balls to deep mid-wicket, following up a savage pull by lofting a fuller ball into the stands. That over went for 17, and the floodgates opened. Later, he pulled Hasaranga for a six to deep mid wicket -he seems to love pouncing on the spinners with that shot-as India plundered 61 off the last 5 overs.
“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. So Axar and I thought that was the perfect time to target the bowlers. And that’s what we executed,” Hooda said.
In a game which kept swinging one way to the other, Hooda and Axar Patel’s unbeaten 68-run alliance for the sixth wicket in 6 overs was worth its weight in gold. “It was very clear that we had to build partnerships after we lost early wickets. 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,” he said.
In IPL-2022, Hooda had scored 451 runs in 15 games @ 32.21, with 4 fifties, at a strike rate of 136.66, helping LSG reach the playoffs in their maiden attempt. The man has a clear understanding of what his ‘job profile’ in this format entails. “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,” he explained.