Dribbling through challenges with hockey sticks

Mr. S R Ramachandran, BSc, M Ed. , Asst Master Physics had the credit of being our Hockey coach during 1988-1990, our final years at Kazhak. He is presently at the Indian Public School, Bahrain.

SR Ramachandran - SSKZM
SR Ramachandran

I was in the School Hockey team since 1987, from my Class X days, at a time when the legendary TPR sir stood in as the hockey coach for Kazhakians. With SR Ramachandran Sir  as our coach, we wnt on to win the the Trivandrum District championship during  in 1989-90. The speciality of the school hockey team, that time, was that most of the team members were school appointment holders, including the School Captain, Vice Captain and a smattering of  House Captains.

His techniques and methods of teaching were so effective that I went on to use it efficiently during my stint as Engineering college Hockey captain and in the Indian Air Force. His various techniques on how to snatch the ball quickly from the opponent, how to easily deflect the ball from the sides of an advancing forward, how to play complimentary roles between the defense and the midfielders and how to be brave enough to stand right in front of the hard-hitting opponent and stop the ball.

He used to say “as long as you have the hockey stick in your hand, you should not fear the ball, however hard it is hit”. Even though I wore my spectacles during the game, this gave me enough courage in my entire hockey tenure that I was never hit on my face, chest or on my bi-focals.

I still recall his beautiful deceiving techniques while dribbling the ball, especially in the final yards to the goal, effectively right in the jaws of the crocodile, so to speak. We were masters in the  technique of Short Corners, by the time he was done with us, with me being given the “arduous” task of  bringing the ball to a dead stop just outside the “enemy’s goal circle”, and push it back into the circle for our marauding forwards to hit hard and accurately into the goal post. Stopping the ball dead was the technique to be perfected. With one hand on the grip portion of the hockey stick and the other on the back of the head part of the hockey stick, I needed to stop the ball and ensure that my hand does not touch the ball. Stopping the ball dead and the instant push was to be timed perfectly. The person who hit the pushed ball stood very close to me and I needed to be extra careful not get hit with his raised stick while he hit the ball into the goalpost. It was easier doing an open-heart surgery in a hurricane.

Forwards ( Frontliners ) – Rajesh M (2002), Premdas R (2003), Peter P Vazhayil (2017);
Midfielders – Jacob Sebastian (1999);
Full Backs ( Defense ) – Suresh P (1998), Manish Kumar P (1991);
Goalkeeper – Anuj Kumar (2095)

– were some of the stalwarts of the team from the ’90 batch.

The St Thomas Central School Grounds
The St Thomas Central School Grounds.

Winning the Trivandrum District Hockey Championship ( 1990 )

Winning the Trivandrum District Hockey Championship in 1990 was a sweet revenge for the school team defeat in 1988 by St. Thomas School and a tribute to TPR sir who was our Hockey coach in 1988. It was a double whammy since we decimated them in their own school ground! Never had revenge tasted sweeter. You see, they had their most vociferous cheerleader girls, sitting on the bleachers of the small stadium, cheering the St. Thomas team, and they were  right next to our goal side ! As I was a fullback, the taunts and catcalls were getting to me by the minute, losing my focus as I tried pacifying my foolish pride. Vengeance was sworn right there, and all it needed was the right opportunity. And it came the moment  we scored the first goal.  My first reaction was to turn towards the “cheerleaders of the home crowd” and do a war whoop with my hockey stick raised high. Only after that , did I run to greet the team.

The best part was that we won scoring more than 2 goals to nil. I was very proud that as fullbacks, with Manish supporting me, we did not allow the St. Thomas team forwards or the shots they hit anywhere inside the circle. The funny part was that every time I stopped an opponent’s shot and hit it back with sheer force towards our team wingers, I turned towards the girls with a self-satisfied smirk. Looking back, I realise that , more than the taunts,what made me lose my bearings were that  the St. Thomas girls were beauties, adorable eye-candy, for the hormone-crazy creatures that we were , from a regimented environment as SSKZM.

SSKZM and SS Amravatinagar Hockey teams before-another epic clash, 22 years later
SSKZM and SS Amravatinagar Hockey teams before-another epic clash, 22 years later !

The only instance of regret was our losing  to Sainik School Amaravati by one goal towards the end of the playing time in the Inter School South Zone Hockey Tournament. All of us who were near the goal post stood appealing for an offside instead of clearing the ball. It was actually an offside but the opponents took advantage and hit the ball to score the solitary goal against us. Ramachandran Sir reminded us of the synchronization that he had taught us in every situation. If at least one person had concentrated on clearing the ball while others were appealing for the offside, we would have not have conceded the goal and as a full back, it was my prime responsibility which I forgot for that moment.

He had even arranged a practice match with the “huge” CRPF team. I will never forget one of their giant strikers lumbering up to me and patting me on my shoulder for having  stopped one of their Mach-3 shots dead in its tracks. Of course, my wrist and palm felt like a steam-engine had run over it for the next one week !

To play is a skill and to coach is a totally different skill. An excellent player need not be an excellent coach. Tremendous patience, determination and leadership were some of the qualities in Ramachandran Sir that am sure we all remember, and would like to cherish all my life. Also the endless stamina, long hours of practice, winning attitude, team spirit and the extra nutritious food are sweet memories.

Here is to you Sir, whenever you are reading this, remember that those bunch of cadets that you trained during the 1988-90 years still recall you with reverence, and will always be a part of our hearts’ neighborhood.

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