NEW DELHI: Irfan Pathan compares Deepak Hooda's passion for cricket to a kid in a candy store.
He simply loves the "taste" of a cricket field.
"He loves the taste of playing cricket, pretty much like chocolate," says the former India all-rounder.
Following a rather eventful 2021 when he quit his home team Baroda after a well documented spat with skipper Krunal Pandya, Hooda has earned his maiden call-up to the Indian ODI team for the home series against the West Indies.
The batting all-rounder had also been picked in India's T20 squad back in 2017 but did not get to play.
With India looking to find long-term solutions for their shaky middle-order, the 26-year-old has a good chance of making a long awaited debut next month.
The selection marks the high point of a roller-coaster last 12 months for Hooda who displayed remarkable mental strength to overcome a dark phase in his career.
Six months after storming out of the Baroda team hotel due to his argument with Krunal, Hooda joined Rajasthan ahead of the 2021-2022 season as a professional.
Usually, outstation players, who join smaller teams are paid an additional fee over and above their match fee, but such was his frame of mind that Hooda never spoke money with the RCA officials.
He was desperately wanted to get back to playing and with Rajasthan looking for a proven performer like him to nurture the local talent, it was a win win situation for both parties.
"He just wanted to play. Never asked for fee that professional players usually ask for. We knew the circumstances in which he came to us. It was a win-win. We needed a batting all-rounder like him and someone who could guide the local players.
"We feel proud that he was able to do well for us which helped him get picked for India," RCA secretary Mahender Sharma told PTI.
He was the second highest run getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, his first competition, before he being made captain for the following Vijay Hazare Trophy where he scored a century against Karnataka.
Pathan, who has mentored Hooda ever since he started playing for Baroda in 2013, also recalled that tough period for the Rohtak-born cricketer and how he got into the Rajasthan side.
"It is a true story. Lot of teams wanted him. He didn't care about the money. He just wanted to go out there and play and that's the kind of character he is. He's a kid in a candy store when it comes to playing cricket and he just loves it.
"He doesn't care about other benefits and everything. Some of the decision makers (at RCA) were also surprised that he didn't talk about money. He didn't talk about commercials," said Pathan.
The former India pacer stood by Hooda during his low phase last year but now feels there is little point in dwelling on what happened.
"I don't want him to talk about it. I just want him to be grateful that he's been selected for India.
"He's been in really good frame of mind. And whenever I have spoken to him, he has always talked highly about Baroda cricket which gave him a great platform. He is very grateful about that.
"All credit to him, all credit to his family, they managed him well and it wasn't easy and he came out of it."
Hooda, whose father works in the Indian Air Force, can be India's answer to their middle woes, believes Pathan.
The two recently spent time at the Moti Bagh Stadium in Baroda before Pathan left for Oman to play in the Legends League.
"I was there with him 10 days ago and I was seeing his batting also. Those who follow domestic circuit know that if you're batting well in Moti Bagh (green surface), you are actually batting well.
"He must have batted two sessions, each session minimum 300 to 400 balls. He was hardly playing away from his body. The ball does a bit and 95 per cent of the time he was in control.
"And I was like, 'wow, if he gets selected right now he will score runs for India'. Most importantly, he's got outstanding fielding abilities as well and ability to bowl with a new ball in the powerplay as well as with the old ball," said Pathan.
Listing out more reasons for his potential success as a middle-order batter, Pathan added: "So what do you want in a middle order batter? Can you maneuver the strike? Can you take Singles and Doubles regularly? Yes, he can because he's got outstanding wrists.
"He's got a really good play on the leg side. He has improved his offside play a lot.
"He's got nice supple wrists which are very important...Can he accelerate when he gets set? He can because he's got those big shots as well."