Michael Roberts **
Islanders, they say, have affinities. They hang out together. Joe Hoad is a Caribbean islander, or, as the street poets in those isles would say,
Joe’s no Imran Khan,
He’s just a plain Bajan man, man.
Joe is also a well-known raconteur. So let’s reflect on his powers of speech the Bajan (pronounced “Beyjun”) way.
You see Joe,
Da man could talk
Boy, how he could talk
That man know how to walk the talk, and even how to talk the walk.
In written script such jokes lose their biting tease. One should ask a West Indian to put this into his spoken argot. That would be the West Indian way. Converting the point into plain Lankan English/Sinhalese is easy however. Joe Hoad would be quickly anointed as Mr. Katha Baas, Foreman of Talk
But he is more than that, far, far more than that. Born and nurtured in Barbados, Joe Hoad was one among many sons born to E L G Hoad, a factory manager who had the distinction of captaining the West Indies in its first ever Test match. Joe himself played for Barbados on occasions in the Weekes, Walcott and Atkinson era. He was also a stick-fighter and a table tennis player. His prowess in the latter was such that he represented his island state in the international arena.
Joe and Jean Hoad and family migrated to Australia in 1971. In this large continental space Joe has been a social welfare officer and a man of many parts. Among the ‘parts’ are coaching in cricket and table tennis as well as umpiring at cricket, fields in which he has secured the requisite qualifications, besides those most vital capacities, namely, experience and enthusiasm backed by acumen. Joe has been one of the coaches for the Australian Para Olympics table tennis team for sometime now. He is also a sports psychologist and it is in this capacity that he was recruited by the West Indian touring team in its hour of emergency in December 2000.
His versatility and vitality are witnessed, too, in his etchings and paintings. Joe studied drawing at the Barbados Academy, concentrating on charcoal drawings that won him acclaim. In Australia he started to work with Aboriginal communities in 1978; and became interested in painting after watching Aboriginal artists at work. Two such artists, Lindsay Poopidie and Victor Tunkin, taught Joe the basics of painting in oil and watercolour. After considerable self-study and practice, Joe now paints in oils and acrylics, doing mostly landscapes and seascapes and sometimes using nom de plumes for his work.
Joe’s links with these aboriginal painters are an indication of his amiable ways and humanist disposition. They also mark his travels within Australia. It was in Brisbane that he met some Sri Lankans and made friends with a visiting Sri Lankan athletics coach. It was this connection in turn that led him to search out another Sri Lankan, this author, when he was umpiring a game at Flinders University where I played cricket on and off. At my suggestion he and Jean joined the Australia Sri Lanka Association (ASLA as it is called, a trans-ethnic social group that was very active in the late 80s but has declined in the 90s and rather limps along these days).
My university job took me abroad for spells every now and then, so I did not bump into Joe often in the early 90s. We renewed acquaintance in the midst of dire cricketing circumstances in January 1996. Let me set up the scene briefly. After a study spell in Leiden, I flew into Melbourne on 23rd December 1995. Objective: the second Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka. On that ill-fated day, 26 December 1995, Hair no-balled Murali. I was furious. On the 31st December back in Adelaide I penned an angry letter to the editor for an Australian newspaper castigating the effect of “fundamentalism” on the cricket fields. It was never published in the Aussie news arena.
So Joe would not have known how I felt. But when we happened to meet, he was adamant that a head umpire could not monitor both feet and hand at the same time. This opinion was volunteered and not in response to my inquiries. But more to the point, he went on to say this: “Muralitharan does not throw, but I have doubts about that other guy Dharmasena’s faster ball. Also McGrath’s fast bouncer.” Joe is a man for straight talk when it comes to vital issues. This was an experienced cricketer’s and umpire’s verdict, an evaluation to value. Our friendship immediately took deeper proportions. I invited him to attend a projected meeting that would set up a cricket well-wishers’ association on behalf of Sri Lanka in Adelaide.
So that was how Joe Hoad became part of a select band of founder members of the Adelaide Friends of the Sri Lankan Cricket Academy (since modified to AFSLC – without the “Academy”) on the 23rd January 1996. This venture owes its origins to Ana Punchihewa’s efforts to widen the support base for the cash-strapped Sri Lankan cricketing coffers. A chance encounter with Quintus de Zylwa at the MCG had seen Quintus push me to initiate such a body by using the impending visit of the Sri Lankan cricket team to Adelaide for the Third Test as an inspiration. Assisted by several friends a meeting was organised at the house of Dr. D M S Karunaratne (“Eye Karu” to all his friends in distinction from “Gem Karu”). Duleep Mendis said he was too busy to grace the gathering, but Dav Whatmore knew what was what. He was there and brought along Chaminda, Murali, Pramodya, Jayantha Silva and Dunusinghe, a great boost to those present. Joe had also brought a Rowe and Jarman bat. Chaminda rather favoured its balance as he tried it afterwards. Joe secured a special discount price for this tool and several of us made sure it became Chaminda’s. But that was less important than the local effort to set up an organisation that could supplement the incomes available for Sri Lankan cricket.
Or so we thought. We little knew, then, that help was not required. In March-April that year Sri Lanka walked away with the World Cup when it held on the subcontinent. Nay, more, they walked over their opponents in magnificent style, playing cricket, not sledge, all the way. After that, well, the monies from well-wishers were mere baubles.
That little gathering of well wishers in Adelaide is nevertheless a historic moment in the story Sri Lankans in Adelaide. Cricket, it seems, can sometimes – alas only sometimes, as Sydney people will tell you — transcend the petty jealousies and the class, alumni and ethnic divisions that beset Sri Lankan people in most diasporic settings, duplicating similar divisions in their homeland.
So, what then saw Joe hob-nob with our mob, the Lankan lot. I have never put this question to him. I speculate an answer thus. It could be the rice and curry meals. He relishes the stuff. That’s true, but too trivial an answer. The reason, I would say, lies deeper. It was a case of Sri Lankan batting panache meeting the scale of values etched in Caribbean batting panache by maestros old and new. Sanath and Kalu at the last three ODI games in 95/96, they were simply “WOW.” And the whole team carried their terrific batting form into the World Cup series. Thus, I say, Sarath and Kalu were men after Joe’s heart, Roy Fredericks and Rohan Kanhai returned. The look on McGrath’s face would have been enough to warm the cockles of any Bajan heart. Some four months later in Puerto Rico, Don Robotham (a Caribbean scholar) assured me that the West Indians “to a man” cheered Sri Lanka to victory during that World Cup final against Australia.
Thus it was, that sometime later in mid 1996, Joe turned up at my house. He carried two paintings, one showing Arjuna holding the World Cup aloft against a bright blue background, the other showing Arjuna’s winning shot, that delicate late-glide to third man fine that most of us will recollect so happily
I had not requested such pictures. They were presents to us Lankan Adelaidians and marked Joe’s enthusiasm for the cricket played by our men of cricket. In Lankan argot one could say they were piñata hadhavathin, done for nothing from goodness of heart – thus meritoriously. Made for Lanka, the paintings now belong to Lanka.
** This article originally appeared in the Souvenir of the BCCSL produced in connection with the Triangular ODI series between the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, December 2001
Joe Hoad in Sri Lankan Cricket Engine Room, Adelaide, 2003
Images of Joe Hoad in Sri Lanka , November 2012
Joe at Dushy and Tanya Perera’s home in Nugegoda — where the verbal engagements between the two raconteurs, Mahinda Wijesinghe and Hoad, were golden chips from the old Anglo-educated days and traversed the achievements of the old masters of the 1950s and 1960s … from Weekes, Walcott and Worrall to Satha and Sobers … and not forgetting Ramadhin and Valentine