What happened to Brett Schultz?

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Some of the game’s prominent fast bowlers have left an indelible mark on our shores.  

There was Sir Richard Hadlee, who took 23 wickets in 1984 and Mitchell Starc who took 24 wickets in 2016 while Imran Khan in 1985, Wasim Akram in 1994 and Mohammad Asif in 2006 made the Sri Lankans eat humble pie. But nobody had such a devastating effect as Brett Schultz in 1993. The bear, as he was fondly known, with an unusual action, dented the confidence of the batsmen, ended a few careers and helped the Proteas clinch the three match series taking 20 wickets. 

There was a lot of excitement in Sri Lanka when the South Africans landed in 1993. It was their first tour to the island, soon after being readmitted to the ICC after the apartheid regime fell. 

Sri Lanka coach Duleep Mendis had drawn up his battle plans. They had seen the South Africans during the World Cup in New Zealand the previous year and knew what to expect. Allan Donald, ‘white lightning’ was their biggest trump card, Duleep had told his players. But in fact, Sri Lanka were blown away by this 23-year-old rookie. 

South African skipper Keppler Wessels had played Test cricket for Australia during apartheid era and had in fact toured Sri Lanka in 1983 with Greg Chappell’s team. In the Kandy Test, he made 141 runs and was Man of the Match as the Aussies won by an innings.  So he knew what to expect while touring Sri Lanka.  

So Wessels convinced the selectors that he wanted to have Brett Schultz in the side and he had his reasons. Schultz showed that his pace was through the air and not off the pitch and that was a vital ingredient on the Sri Lankan surfaces. Pitches had been tailor-made to suit spin, fearing Donald would walk away with a rich haul, but Schultz proved to be unplayable. 

Schultz resembles a rugby player with his height of six foot five inches and strong build. He grew up in East London and played cricket for Eastern Province, whose home ground is St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth. That’s the slowest surface in South Africa. That’s where Sri Lanka created history by becoming the first Asian team to win a series in the country. So toiling on those slow wickets in Port Elizabeth, Schultz had been prepared for the challenge in Sri Lanka. 

“We had no idea about him. He took us completely by surprise,” Sanath Jayasuriya told ThePapare. “We had not faced such pace ever before. I have played some very difficult fast bowlers, but the specialty of Schultz was that he could swing the ball at extreme pace. That was deadly. We were sitting ducks,” Jayasuriya added.

“We had no time to figure out what to do against him. What I did was to urge Chaminda Vaas, who had not played for Sri Lanka yet, to come along and bowl in the NCC nets. I just wanted to bat against left-arm fast bowling. He agreed on one condition. I had to pick him up and drop him off. I had a small car then. I did it as promised. It helped immensely as I made 65 in the last innings of that series at the Oval. That probably saved my career,” Jayasuriya went onto say.

So the popular belief is that a series of knee injuries forced Schultz to disappear. Well, his unusual action did take a toll on his knees, but more than that, a freak accident nearly made him a cripple. 

On the eve of a business trip, Schultz climbed up a stool to reach out to a suitcase. He fell, broke his elbow and was hospitalized. He had to undergo surgery. There were several complications and it resulted in repeated surgery on the elbow; a dozen of them.  His arm was nearly amputated. The doctors finally were able to save his arm but he lives without a bone in the elbow which has resulted in him being unable to rotate the elbow. 

Schultz now lives in Cape Town. He has moved on and has no regrets that his cricket career could not have the impact it promised to have. He could have formed a lethal new ball combination with Donald and at the turn of the new millennium could have become the spearhead of the South African attack instead of Shaun Pollock. But that wasn’t to be. He is into business and is making good progress as well. 

Schultz is fondly remembered here. Although he was nicknamed ‘bear’ he was more like a ‘teddy bear’ in the words of South Africa’s leading cricket writer Telford Vice.  

Even to date, Sri Lankan cricketers of 1990s when they meet South Africans there’s one question that they do not forget to ask, ‘Where is Brett Schultz.’

Not just players but even fans are fond of him. Young businessmen Dinesh Perera, who remembers the 1993 series well as a kid, has promised to fly Schultz down one day when the Proteas are in town. Hopefully the pandemic ends soon and we are able to interact with a man who stunned Sri Lankan cricket almost three decades ago.