The first thing that stands out when you see Brett Schultz these days is the shiny pate. Gone are the blonde locks that once bounced and swayed as he thundered menacingly towards the bowling crease. He is decked in a formal shirt on Wednesday. One that hardly hides the massive girth under it,the broad shoulders and the oak-tree like chest,that made him one of the most intimidating opponents in world cricket.
You also realise that the constant references the former South African thunderbolt makes to himself as the bear and the beast are warranted. The voice is gruff,and the 43-year-old insurance agent grunts with excitement every time he describes a happy moment from his injury-plagued and truncated career.
One that saw him snare 37 wickets at 20.20 apiece but sadly fell into the what might have been category. These days,Schultz smiles a lot and hardly needs a reason to break into a loud guffaw that sees his immense frame quivering. And his life revolves not around breaking heads with the ball but convincing clients that their assets are safe in his gigantic hands. He works at Econorisk as a Director of Insurance.
You almost want to see him breaking into one of his bowling fits,put on the death-stare and dish out the verbals that had batsmen shaking under their boots. But Schultz only drops you a few teasers.
I wasnt so obsessed with pace. I was more obsessed about the fear in the eyes of the batsmen when they faced me. I was a mean guy with the ball in hand. Allan Donald would get angry on and off. I was consistently angry,spitting bullets, he says.
After coming into the South African Test team with a scary reputation against India in Durban back in 1992,Schultzs body only lasted nine Tests,all of which came in a space of five years with numerous comebacks. His knees were never strong enough to take the workload,shortening what promised to be a path-breaking career. Schultz though prefers being pragmatic in his assessment of his stint as South Africas tearaway.
My career was fast and furious,it was energetic,it was passionate but it was painful to the body as well as the soul. It was always a case of what could have been. Everything was in the myth. In the end it did help me but the true test would have come if I had a long career to see whether the myth was a reality. So regrets no,sadness yes, he says.
Schultz brings up the myth that surrounded him many times during the conversation. One that he believes probably wasnt absolutely accurate but one that he learnt to work with.
It started when I was in school and was nicknamed the Bear. The wild man in the cage who would rub the meat against the cage and be in peoples face. I was fast and nasty. And when I came to the world stage,the myth just grew. One journalist even built up this image saying I came from a broken family and from there came the raw aggression,which was very untrue but it worked, he says followed by the characteristic guffaw.
He does insist though that none of the aggression was a put-on. Schultz even recalls an incident involving former South African all-rounder and Indian bowling coach Eric Simons to drive his point home.Eric came to me during the lunch-break of a provincial game and showed me a picture of his wife and daughter. I said they looked lovely to which he replied,Why the hell do you want to kill me then? But when I had ball in hand in the next session,Eric was shown no mercy, recalls Schultz.
Off the field,Schultz not only claims to have been a different personality but also the prankster of the then South African team,once even coming close to blowing up a teammate.
I went down to the village and bought some of those famous Indian fire-crackers. Steve Palframan (former wicketkeeper) happened to be in the shower and I opened the door and lobbed the cracker inside. The whole place blew up. The lights burst,there was smoke coming out and Steve Palframan came out with eyes red and wide open, says Schultz followed by another big laugh.
After recovering from a buttock injury and a back strain Schultzs major highlight with the ball came during the tour to Sri Lanka where he had to shoulder the burden of his teams pace attack with Donald. He finished the tour on a high,snaring 20 wickets at 16.30 apiece but there he picked up his first major knee injury,ringing the first ominous sounds of the death knell as far as his career was concerned.
He played in three more series,playing one Test apiece in each of them. He retired officially in 1997 but made another valiant comeback a couple of years later. By then the ship had sailed.