Brett Schultz: Dale Steyn is the best South African pacer since the country’s readmission

Nine Tests, 37 wickets at 20.24, the numbers reflect a start to a promising career. In his short international stint, Brett Schulz troubled the very best around the world. Injuries hampered the progress of a glittering career. From an aggressive blonde haired express bowler to a bald headed finance man, the journey of Schulz hasn’t been the smoothest.

In a candid interview with Criclife’s Abhishek Kumar, the former South African left-arm pacer opens up on various topics — from current lot of fast bowlers to managing injuries to his “Father of Cricket” to the current India-South Africa series to his verbal spat with the now Indian Team Director Ravi Shastri and much more.

Q: You were initially a rugby player and during your teenage South Africa was going through Apartheid, so what inspired you to come to cricket?

A: Rugby and cricket where the two biggest sports culturally during the Apartheid era. Although South Africa was not part of the international sporting arena, we were (and still are) a sports mad nation. I achieved higher accolades in rugby at a younger age due to my physical stature and had dreams of representing my country as a Springbok. But my cricket surpassed my rugby achievements later in my schooling career when I changed from keeping wickets to bowling. My inspiration came when I met Kepler Wessels; he subsequently moulded me into an aggressive fast bowler. He was my “Father of Cricket” by guiding me through my early provincial years and was instrumental in bringing me towards my ultimate goal of representing South Africa.

Q: Does playing more than one sport help a sportsman develop into a better one? Or let me put it this way that does playing other sport at good level help you grow as a cricketer?

A: I believed in playing as many sporting codes as possible when growing up, for sport was my passion. As with anything, the more you enjoy what you do, the better you do it. As a child, being exposed to the enjoyment aspect of sport better enables one to settle down as a professional sportsman — if that’s the route you choose to take.

Sport is about winning, but we can’t win all the time. It is sometimes in defeat that we learn our greatest lessons. And through this we learn to apply ourselves better and go on to achieve greater things. By being exposed to a number of sports from a young age, I learnt valuable life lessons which helped me to achieve in the international cricket arena and, ultimately, in business. It was my body, not my mind that brought my cricket career to an arupt end.

Q: There’s an interesting duel between you and Ravi Shastri on your Test debut. What exactly happened between you two?

A: Being my Test debut, I needed to create an air of confidence. Ravi Shastri was a long established player, whereas Ajay Jadeja was very new to the Test arena. So I decided to mentally take on the senior player in order to not be dominated as the new kid on the block. Ravi, at the time was surprised by my “in your face” approach and retorted back at me. Years later, when injuries had ended my career, Ravi asked me onto his lunchtime commentary spot whilst India were playing South Africa in Port Elizabeth. We both enjoyed a good laugh about the David versus Goliath tussle.

Q: Do you think sledging has a place in the gentleman’s game?

A: As in all sports, 80 per cent of the game at the top level is mental; therefore, any advantage that can be gained over an opponent is important. By saying something and obtaining a reaction, you can take your opponent’s mind off the game, even if for a split second. This is when they are vulnerable to making mistakes.

Having said that, sledging, in the true sense of the word, is not necessary. The greatest bowlers and batters mostly use body language with the odd chirp here and there. Cricket is a gentleman’s game, but with very high stakes. By gainings mental advantage over the opposition one is able toachieve forward momentum, which ultimately is what wins games.

Q: We recently saw Ishant Sharma and Dhammika Prasad going over the line. But there were fines and bans that followed. What’s your opinion on aggression of current fast bowlers? Barring Mitchell Johnson, Dale Steyn, Wahab Riaz and a few others not every fast bowler looks aggressive.

A: Fast bowling is about intimidation and being a shock weapon. There is a lot of adrenaline on field when a fast bowler comes on. The fielding team is looking for wickets and the bowler is trying to refine his skill, and sometimes this adrenaline overflows into the game. That is when players cross the line.

In my opinion there is no place in the game for abusive language, but international cricket is ultimately a highly competitive sport and emotions sometimes get the better of players. In the modern game there is more regulation around on-field antics, but at the end of the day the odd boil-over is good as it reminds everyone what is at stake.

It also attracts viewers and spectator enthusiasm, for it’s exciting. It is debatable if there is a place for it, but fast bowling is about aggression, which raises emotions and the odd spill-over is inevitable. If we go into history, the greatest fast bowlers of all time have been aggressive. I feel data speaks for itself.

Q: You had a very successful run in Sri Lanka, but we usually see spinners playing the main role in subcontinent conditions. Now we have seen Ishant and Dhammika bowling really well and excelling in Sri Lanka, do you feel fast-bowlers can play a key role in the subcontinent?

A: Fast bowling in the subcontinent is not easy: the conditions are against you, from the wicket preparation to the weather elements. Fast bowlers definitely have a role to play, but more as shock bowlers. Shorter, more intense spells worked well for me, as I was able to give 110 per cent knowing I was only on for three or four overs.

The new ball also has less value, as it comes onto the bat quicker and there is not much swing. So the older ball was more effective with the possibility of reverse swing due to the roughness of the pitches. Therefore, fast bowling is a different art in the subcontinent, where your lengths are different. Of course, with genuine pace, you can push a batsman onto the back-foot and then bowl full reverse-swinging deliveries to take wickets.

Q: Your career was plagued with injuries and came to an abrupt end. Though injury management is better these days, what will you still advise the current crop of bowlers to avoid injuries?

A: The game is in a far more professional era. Fast bowlers are monitored closely on the number of deliveries in a season. They are managed according to their actions and bowling position in the team. There is also a lot more cricketbeing played these days with Twenty20 being the grounding platform for the new blooding of players.

I was more of an all-out player and was of a ‘get the job done’ mindset — something that cost me a long career but also gained me a reputation as an impactful player. But the modern game has become about careers and, just like businessmen, professional sportsmen need their bodies and minds managed. Therefore my advice to any player is to listen to the support staff and work hard at keeping fit. Also take your time in injury to rehabilitate before returning to the playing field. You need to be firing on all cylinders to be your best.

Q: Players like Bruce Reid, Geoff Allott, Alan Mullally, Nuwan Zoysa, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan played in the 1990s and early 2000s. Barring Wasim Akram, many of these players including you suffered career-threatening injuries. Do you really think that particular decade was a curse for left-arm fast bowlers? What do you think led to it?

A: Left-arm bowlers were few and far between back in the 1990s. There were also fewer left-handed batsmen. This meant left-arm over the wicket bowling across the right-handed batsman was a stock delivery. This also meant most of us had very closed actions and landed close to the stumps; at the same time we needed to get off the pitches danger area and this caused lots of rotation of knees, hips and backs.

Rotation is coached out of bowlers in the modern game, for it causes injuries and most bowlers these days are more open-chested to reduce joint rotation. I was also one of the heaviest fast bowlers in the world at close to 100 kg; that, combined with a big leap, led to my undoing.

However, looking back, I don’t know how I would have changed much as changing ones action often means you lose your difference and therefore your competitive edge. So as much it was a left-hander’s curse, it was also an advantage.

Q: Following South Africa’s readmission to international cricket, the country has seen quite a few quality pacers. According to you who has been the best out of the lot?

A: Without a doubt, Dale Steyn. He has been a unique specimen being able to bowl effectively in all conditions. He also has the ability to ratchet up a few notches when the team is flat and he’s therefore a great player to have on your side. His record speaks for itself. The only accolade he’s not yet achieved is having a winning World Cup medal on his mantelpiece. He is without a doubt the real deal.

Q: How do you rate South Africa’s performance in World Cup 2015? Many had expected them to win the tournament. South Africa enjoys a good fan base in India too and many were left heartbroken here as well.

A: It was a sad day for all South African supporters when we lost in the semi-final to New Zealand. But if I am honest, the better side won that day. It was a game of inches, and we did not take our opportunities on the field. We set good platforms, but it all seemed too much and the pressure got to the team. They gave it their all, and no one can accuse them of giving up or choking. They left everything out there on the field, but once again, it was not South Africa’s time. It will come though; we have the talent and the mindset to break this hoodoo.

Q: There’s this unwanted tag of ‘chokers’ that even you had to deal with during your playing days. What is it with a quality team like South Africa in big tournaments or crucial junctures of matches?

A: From our very first World Cup tournament back in 1992, where rain and the system ruined our chances, and Allan Donald and Lance Klusener ran themselves out on a tied game in 1999, we have built up undue pressure on ourselves to win. This subconscious pressure is our “monkey on the back”.

But, as a culture, we are resilient and it’s only a matter of time before we raise that trophy. We may have chocked in the past, but South Africa’s time is coming….

Q: Now that South Africa will tour India after a gap of more than five years, how do you see the contest between Virat Kohli’s young India and the No.1 ranked South African Test side?

A: It will be a tough series with India having home side advantage, but South Africa is aiming to take that No. 1 ranking back, and we have the side to do it. I will be watching closely, as the sides are evenly matched and the mental dominance will be established early on in the series. It will take strong determination to break that dominance if India, being at home, win the first Test comfortably.

Q: How much pressure will it be on a spinner like Imran Tahir? Or do you think the Protean pace battery is enough against the less experienced Indian side?

A: Spinners have rarely won Tests for South Africa either in or out of the country. Tahir is a wicket-taker and has the ability to win you matches. But subcontinent sides play spin very positively and therefore don’t allow “turners” to settle into a rhythm. My belief is that an all-round bowling performance will be needed to beat India.

Q: Coming to you, why didn’t you take up some role in cricket post-retirement? Can we see you donning a mentor, administrator or commentator hat soon?

A: Due to my sporting career being so intermittent with injury, I always kept my options open by being involved in business from early on. During my playing days I was also in fulltime employment; by the time my cricket career came to a close I had already established a few of my own businesses.

I opted to move out of the sport as I didn’t feel I could carry on being involved without actually playing the game. Coaching is something I did from time to time, but it requires fulltime focus and you need to be ahead of the curve in preparing players for both their impending achievements as well as any setbacks. In saying that, I still love the game, so never say never.

Q: You have been involved in many charity work post retirement: what made you do this?

A: Cricket gave me so much in my life and I want to give back. I try to do something once a year to raise money to help others. My most recent fundraiser was in support of Equestrian dressage Paralympichopeful, Nicole Sanders, who has cerebral palsy.

My girlfriend Georgina Swain and I decided to help her following a meeting at SARDA (South African Riding for the Disabled), atherapeutic horse riding facility for disabled people, where Georgina volunteers. We had just cycled the Cape Town Cycle Tour to raise money for SARDA when we first met Nicole. Her pure grit and determination inspired us to assist in her journey towards competing for South Africa in the Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We raised enough money for her training, but she still needs more if she is to qualify. So watch this space….

Q: If you had to select your own team, then which players will fit in your Dream XI team?

A: Desmond Haynes, Matthew Hayden, Kepler Wessels (c), Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh, Brian McMillan, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Malcolm Marshall, Allan Donald.

 

This is a rapid fire round and you can answer these 6Fs in one word

A.  Favourite cricketer: Wasim Akram

B.  Favourite sportsperson: Roger Federer

C.  Favourite destination: Knysna, South Africa

D.  Favourite actor: Al Pacino

E.  Fondest friend: I have the fortune to have lots of inspiring people in my life

F.  Favourite movie: The biographical sports drama Rush

 

(Abhishek Kumar is a cricket devotee currently staffing with Criclife.com. He can be followed at abhicricket.kumar and abhishekkr2593)