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A GREAT UNFORGETTABLE NOSTALGIA - My Coaching under the Wizard of Hockey, Major Dhyanchand

When India was celebrating the euphoria coming out of the exploits of hockey India and other disciplines in the recently concluded Olympics, a historic announcement was made by Prime Minister that the Rajiv Khel Ratna Award will hereby be called the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award. "Major Dhyan Chand was among India’s foremost sportspersons who brought honour and pride for India. It is fitting that our nation’s highest sporting honour will be named after him," PM Modi said while announcing the big decision. All hockey loving populace in particular and sports loving people in general rejoice on the announcement of change.

I, as a sports person, welcome the announcement which sets right an injustice done to him by not bestowing the highest honour of Bharat Ratna for sport person. It also brings back some nostalgic memories of my tryst with hockey and Dhyanchand more than 50 years ago which kindles my reminiscences of my school (Model School) and college (University College, Thiruvananthapuram) days and my early years of my professional life.

During my youth days, hockey and cricket were not popular and favoured games in Kerala and the teams were very lowly rated in the nationals. I was initiated in to hockey by late T. P. Balakrishnan when I was 10 years old and a student of Model High School, Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram). Later on he brought the services of Indian coach late Mr. Naina Kannu who really taught us what hockey was as prevailing then. I was also the youngest player to play in the senior league tournaments at the age of 12 years. Those were the days when we never got any encouragement from the school authorities nor any infrastructure facilities were available. To tell the truth, we were playing barefoot and with damaged sticks. The rules of hockey were entirely different with lots of restrictions and played on natural turf. It was entirely a different ball game. It was Naina Kannu who introduced us to the short passes, w-w formations, w-v formations and the effects of the touch game unlike today’s power game on the artificial lawn with protective gadgets. The coaching we under went under Naina Kannu resulted in getting myself and my class mate Syed Abdulla selected to represent Kerala state in the junior nationals held during the year 1957 at Barabatti Stadium, Cuttack, then Orissa which was renamed as Odisha. The nostalgic photos are hereunder portrayed. The tournament was played on knock out basis and we were defeated by Bhopal, (M.P) team 5-1 and the only goal scored was by me as center forward.

The year 1968. I and Syed Abdulla along with Syed’s brother Mehboob were selected as members of the Kerala State Hockey Team for the Senior National Tournament prior to the 1968 Olympics. The tournament was played on league basis at Aruvangadu near the south Indian hill station Ooty. Out of the 4 matches we won against Andhra (1-0) and drew against Mysore (1-1) and we lost against Madras and Hyderabad. The match against Mysore was unforgettable and memorable for me because there was a flutter when the Mysore team fielded one of the greatest goal keepers of Indian hockey Desamuthu who was known for his determination and raw guts under the bar. The dare devil acts of acrobatic goal keeper and the great exploits of this custodian to spoil the efforts of stalwarts in the forward line and staving off the attempts of drag corner specialists are very well known to the hockey lovers. On that day, as reported in the then papers, “a powerful shot from Kerala center forward squarely beat him which signaled the equalizer for the team”. I was the center forward and I consider this as one of my greatest achievements in my hockey career. Incidentally, Mysore team was the runner up in that year.

But unfortunately I had to undergo a pay cut for 45 days for attending the coaching camp and participating in the nationals. My employer did not sanction my leave and I could not afford a pay cut at that point of time and I was denied leave for participating in the future games. Thus ended my career in hockey.

But my love for the game continued and I used to participate in the local league matches. Then I received a call to attend a coaching camp. I could not resist the temptation. Since the coaching was taking place in Trivandrum, I enrolled myself.

I could not believe when I was informed that the coach was none other than the great wizard of hockey Dhyanchand. That was more than a dream come true. I even today cherish some of the moments I spent with him. “It is a fact that we may not remember days but we do remember the moments and for me those moments are the most cherishing things in my life because richness of life lies in memories”. I was amazed to see even at that advanced age, the way his dribbling skills worked, flick passes and the special knack for scoring goals for which he was very famous.

Presently the scenario has changed in Kerala due to availability of better infrastructure, coaching facilities, encouragement, availability of sponsors, government taking interest in promoting games and sports etc. With the advent of great hockey players like Manuel Fredrick’s, Shreejesh etc. hailing from Kerala, the game is poised for a great breakthrough bringing more hockey stalwarts from Kerala. I left Kerala in the year 1974 and now I am domiciled in Indore, Madhya Pradesh for the last 37 years. But my memories cannot fade about Kerala particularly Trivandrum (Now Thiruvananthapuram) where I grew up, educated and lived there nearly for 30 years. How can I ever forget the famous “Thycaud maidan” which was the cradle of hockey in Thiruvananthapuram where I learned the first lessons of hockey?

(Left) T. R. Radhakrishnan and (Right) Syed Abdulla of Model High School, Thiruvananthapuram

Kerala State junior state hockey team participated in the junior national hockey championship held at Barabatti Stadium, Cuttack, Odisha

T. R. Radhakrishnan; Standing 5th from left and Syed Abdulla: Standing 3rd from right.

Kerala Senior State Team (1968)

T. R. Radhakrishnan: 4th standing from left. Syed Abdulla: sitting 2nd from right and his bother Mehboob standing 4th from right and coach Venktapathy, standing 5th from right

T. R. Radhakrishnan: Sitting 1st from left.

Major Dhyanchand: Sitting in the Centre wearing garland.

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