The devastating story of Brett Schultz –man who destroyed Sri Lanka in 1993


Brett Schultz at his prime

Rex Clementine
reporting from Cape Town


The year 1993 saw a lot of turmoil in the country. President Premadasa was assassinated in May while the popular Lalith Athulathmudali had been gunned down two weeks before that. Had it been England, Australia or New Zealand, a cricket series a few months after those killings would have been called off. But the South Africans kept to their word and three months after those two high profile assassinations, they toured Sri Lanka.

Captain Arjuna Ranatunga and coach Duleep Mendis had done some meticulous planning. They had seen South Africa’s class fast bowling unit comprising Alan Donald, Brian McMillan, Richard Snell, and Meyrick Pringle during the World Cup the year before and were well prepared. But they were caught unawares as South Africa brought a raw left-arm quick by the name of Brett Schultz, who claimed 20 wickets in the Test series.

Schultz’s express pace, his ability to swing the new ball and reverse swing the old ball made the difference in the series as the South Africans won 1-0.

A massive man, Schultz intimidated the Sri Lankans with his presence. His cricket career was cut short due to ankle and knee injuries, a result of his unusual bowling stride.

But what happened to him after cricket is more shocking. Schultz suffered a freak accident. He broke his elbow and had to undergo 16 surgeries over a  period of six years. His arm was nearly amputated.

Sunday Island met Schultz, who terrorized the Sri Lankans in 1993. In this candid interview, he recalls that tour, talks on characters like Hansie and Jonty, how Allan Donald famously set up Chandika Haturusinghe, rugby, his injuries and lots more.

Sunday Island: We will start with rugby. Apparently you were pretty good at rugby too?

Schultz: Well look at me. I am not built up like a cricketer. I am rugby player to start with. I played rugby at the school at high levels, a lot before I played cricket at higher levels. I was actually taken by a school to play rugby. Cricket also came with it. Rugby was first love and back then for a South African to play for the Springboks was a massive thing. Cricket took over. I was a wicketkeeper until I was under-15 and then I became a bowler. Rugby was my first love and when I had got picked by Kepler Wessells, he said that I will go further in cricket. I had  got picked for the Eastern Province (Port Elizabeth) under-21 side. At that point, Kepler said you must rather stick to cricket. That’s how I remained with cricket. I couldn’t have both  cricket and rugby.

Sunday Island: So Kepler was a massive influence on your career?

Schultz: Kepler I would say was my father of cricket. When the squad for Sri Lanka had been selected in 1993, Kepler, a man of few words, called me and said, ‘I have got you selected for Sri Lanka. Don’t let me down. Good bye.’ As a young man coming through, I was 18 when I met him. He had a massive influence in my career. I did my best under Kepler.

Sunday Island: You made your mark when Test cricket returned to South Africa 21 years after isolation becoming the first bowler to take a wicket?

Schultz: My claim to fame  was taking that first wicket. It was Ajay Jadeja. It was a big moment.

Sunday Island: Before coming to Sri Lanka in 1993, what had you heard about the country?

Schultz: After that phone call from Kepler. Everything was working for me. I was fit and had no injury. I heard that we were going into a tough environment. Since you don’t know,  you prepare as well as you can. Not knowing actually was better. We were new to international cricket. So no one knew how flat the wickets were going to be. I had bowled a lot at the old St. George’s Park (Port Elizabeth) wicket. The old St. George’s wicket was very flat. I had bowled lot of overs there and I was ready. I had done all the preparations. Actually Kepler had done all the preparation for me. So I didn’t know what I was going into. I wanted to do well for my country and not let my captain down.

Sunday Island: Tell us about sharing the new ball with Allan Donald?

Schultz: On that tour to Sri Lanka, I roomed with him. They were upset that I wouldn’t sleep so they put me in his room. He calmed me down. I had to always bowl into the wind with him around. Alan Donald is a great guy. I went to his 50th birthday the other day. Lots of memories were shared. My time was very short. But Allan had a big impact in calming me down and leading the attack in Sri Lanka. In the first Test at Moratuwa he did well. In the second Test I did well.

Sunday Island: Your 23rd birthday was during the first Test at Moratuwa.

Schultz: I do recall that game quite clearly. We picked two spinners in the team, first time ever that I can think that happened. I also remember very well how I had my pads on and waiting when Jonty Rhodes and Clive Eksteen were batting. I was the next man ready to go and save the Test match. That was a scary moment. I remember lot of overs. I remember saying that since the heat was too tough we needed to bowl Sri Lanka out quickly.

Sunday Island: Among Sri Lankans who are over the age of 30, you seem to be the favourite South African cricketer, above Jonty, Dale Steyn and A.B. de Villiers.

Schultz: I am very surprised to hear that. Huge complement for me. I look at it and sometimes say that I was one series wonder. I was able to do well in just that one series as I was injured most of the time. It was tough environment. It was great time. I am going to come back to Sri Lanka some time.

Sunday Island: The aggression you had was very popular at that time. Even the guys like Arjuna and Aravinda, although they didn’t like the aggression at that point, now they talk about it.

Schultz: I was a physical rugby player and I was highly competitive. Going into Sri Lanka Kepler kept reminding me to show my presence. Show them that you mean business. When you are doing well, your confidence also goes higher. It was a series that everything clicked for me. Every day when I woke up, I felt good for bowling that day although it was very hot.

Sunday Island: Something that the Sri Lankans were not prepared was the reverse swing that you were able to generate.

Schultz: We knew it was going to be hard work. We had a training camp in Durban before the tour. You know Durban gets as hotter as Sri Lanka. We roughened up the ball and  practiced in Durban. We knew the pitch would do the work to roughen up the ball. It was always going to reverse. Reversing is an art. It’s not a thing that just happens. We practiced. One of my strengths was getting the ball to reverse. It was good for me that the ball reversed when it got older. But we had worked really hard on those lines.

Sunday Island: Clive Eksteen was saying the other day that you didn’t speak Afrikaans and that you gave out some of team strategy to dismiss Roshan Mahanama by speaking in English.

Schultz: Apparently I said that if you want me to bowl leg-stump I want the fine-leg finer. But I don’t remember exactly like that. But I did say that. I thought I had just asked to get the fine leg go finer, but eventually I had let out a secret plan for Roshan.

Sunday Island: You guys ruined Chandika Haturusinghe’s promising career as an opener?

Schultz: Actually he was Allan Donald’s bunny. We came for the second Test at SSC and we were warming up and I remember Hatu was standing behind the side screen. One of his team-mates had a bucket of balls and he was throwing them at Hatu’s head. He was ducking and ducking. This is where we knew that we had you. We knew it was game on. So the third or fourth over, he would fend at Alan Donald and get caught at gully.

Sunday Island: Your thoughts on Hansie Cronje. 

Schultz: Lot of sadness when you talk of Hansie. But I would always say that he was an incredible captain and incredible human being. There is a famous saying that bad people do bad things properly and good people do bad things badly. He made a mistake. Greed got the better of him. But he was a good man. I saw him just before he died. He said to me that I am eventually getting my life back together. He had lot of remorse for what he did. I think he was scapegoat of world cricket at that time. There was a lot going on. They had to make an example of someone and Ali Bacher really make an example of Hansie. But he did do it. He did match fix which we all know and there’s no hiding away from that. But it doesn’t make him an evil man.

Sunday Island: Best memory of touring Sri Lanka

Schultz: Hard to pick one. Obviously being named Man of the match when we won the Test match at SSC was the highlight. I remember one incident when sea food was being served to us during our warm-up game. We were all excited that we had sea food for lunch. We were about to eat it. But Kepler came along and said no, no one is touching sea food. We were not used to those kinds of spices and it’s tough on your tummy.

Sunday Island: Is Jonty Rhodes the best fielder you have seen?

Oh yeah. Except for the fact that he dropped a catch off my bowling and denied me a fiver for in Sri Lanka. But he was outstanding. We saw the other day Temba Bauvma doing something amazing on the field. But Jonty was so fast. He was also the guy who used to run to you with the ball. Take your cap and run away and give it to the umpire. He was there all the time.  When you are in places like Sri Lanka, where conditions are tough, you need people like that. People with energy. If you drop, then you are going to get dominated. So Jonty was great in that sense keeping everyone alive.

Sunday Island: You had quite a few surgeries on ankle and knee. They say your delivery stride had a huge toll on your body?

Schultz: It’s a double edged sword you know. Everyone asks would you have played more Test cricket with a smoother action. I would have played more, but I don’t know whether I would have been effective. So to refine an action like that I don’t know. Would you have been better managed is another thing. I would have better managed had I been playing now. But we were new to international cricket then. All what we wanted to do was win. You don’t want to manage people, but you want to win. Also remember that I was 95 to 100 kilograms when I was playing. I was one of the heaviest fast bowlers in the world. I  am almost 120 now. I was a lot heavier than most fast bowlers and not the most athletic. So my bowling stride was my effectiveness. I could have refined it, but I couldn’t have got more athletic. When I left Sri Lanka, I lost about six kilograms because I bowled so much.

Sunday Island: When you left Sri Lanka, everyone was convinced that they had seen the next best thing in fast bowling as you were only 23. But your career was cut short by injuries. Have you come to terms with the fact that you couldn’t achieve much?

Schultz: Coming to terms was honestly a difficult thing. When I stopped, I didn’t quite realize the impact that would have had in my life had I carried on for few more years. I had another come back in 1999. But I only bowled 11 balls in that game. I knew at that point that it was over. I wasn’t even 30 yet. It was great, but it was only a small impact – a powerful burst of speed in Sri Lanka. I believe I could have given more, but that’s life. Eventually when you come to terms with life you move on.  Now I have made other choices. I have got another part of my life now. I am now in the business world. I knew I couldn’t be the best coach, I knew I couldn’t be the best commentator. So I was able to say let’s move on. It was tough coming to grips because you get so much recognition, but then you move on.

Sunday Island: Apparently you had to undergo lot of surgeries after cricket.

Schultz: Very unfortunate. While I was working, I was going to go on a business trip. I climbed up a chair to get a suitcase from a cupboard and I ended up shattering my elbow. I nearly lost my right-arm. I had an operation. Then got an hospital bug. They couldn’t get rid of it. The last two surgeries I had to undergo they said they will have to amputate my arm. It was tough. Altogether I went through 16 surgeries over six years on my elbow. It was a very dark time. But eventually the doctors were able to save it. Rehab was tough time. But it taught me a lot you know. Cricket was great, but now you are trying everything to live with four limbs. Life throws challenges. I have got no elbow joint now. They cut up the joints. I am able to function today although I am not 100 percent. I can’t do certain things. But it’s part of life. My sporting fight helped me.

Sunday Island: Obviously you didn’t earn much money out of cricket. So during those dark days how did you mange to look after your family and your medical bills.

Schultz: I was very lucky that I had a business. I have shares in the current company I work for. My business partner was my school time friend. He helped me during those dark days. Rob Sylvester is his name and he held the fort for me. We all need friends in life. Bless him.

Sunday Island: Do you have any contacts with some of the Sri Lankan players you played against.

Schultz: It was a fine Sri Lankan side. I remember that side very well. Obviously guys like Arjuna and Arjuna come into your mind, but then at number seven was this amazing guy called Sanath Jayasuriya. He was just stunning. No matter what the situation was he was very positive and he would play shots. He was devastating. He scored only 30 odds. But he would come and smash everything. They were great bunch of guys. When they came over here, I was injured and we all got together and had a good time. When we were there, Roshan took all of us for dinner to his place. We had war on the field, but good mates off the field. I had a few run-ins with Arjuna. Fortunately I was on top of my game. He was a great player. Thank God I was playing well. We had a few clashes but that’s all part of the game. I would love to visit again. In Colombo, we stayed at the Taj Samudra for one month.

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