Schutt playing by her own rules: ‘Who says what’s normal?’
Megan Schutt had barely hit her rebellious teenage years when she sat down in the lounge room of her modest childhood home in Hackham West in Adelaide's south to watch the 1951 Disney animated movie Alice in Wonderland.
Adapted from Lewis Carroll's mind-bending 1865 novel, there was something about it that enthralled the sport-loving youngster, but it wouldn't be until many years later - as she was growing into an inswinging fast bowler and an important piece of the Australian Women's Cricket team - that the hidden meanings in the film would really resonate.
"It was my favourite movie growing up," the Australian cricketer says. "But it's only as I've got older that I've learnt to interpret its meaning. The underlying messages of Alice in Wonderland are really cool.
"My favourite line in it is: 'That's not normal, well, who's to say what normal is?' Which is the truth. Who is to say what's normal? No one makes a set of rules.
"And also just having curiosity to be better. One of the lines in it is: 'I dreamt I could do six impossible things before breakfast'.
"Just the aspirations to become open-minded … that nothing is impossible. There is no set way to live your life. The unknown is what we fear … there are so many underlying messages to it that I think is a really cool concept."
So cool that Schutt has had Alice's story inked on her back as a permanent reminder of those messages. But more of that later.
All of this typifies Schutt - and not just her penchant for tattoos. She is a complex, thoughtful, opinionated, philosophical cricketer who will be an integral part of Australia's quest for T20 World Cup glory when it starts on Friday.
The proud South Australian arrives back in her hometown on Sunday and on Tuesday, alongside her Aussie teammates including Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry, will play a warm-up match against South Africa at Karen Rolton Oval opposite the new RAH.
It will be a happy - but brief - homecoming for Schutt who will then travel across Australia (from Canberra to Perth) for the next fortnight as the world's No. 1 women's cricket team attempts to win back-to-back T20 World Cups.
Schutt grew up in a loving family, with parents Brian and Sue, sister Natalie and younger brother Warren. She expects she inherited her sporting abilities and her fast twitch fibres from her father. Her eyes, she got from her mother and it was inside this family that Schutt was raised, sharing a bedroom with her older sister.
She went to Hackham West Primary School, then Wirreanda High School, and while she may not have been there much as she should have - "I wagged a bit" - she loved it and received good grades. But it was in sport that she really excelled. Any sport, it didn't matter.
"Sports day was my favourite day because I'd kick arse," she says. "I'd beat the boys, I'd beat the girls. I think I still hold the shot-put record at Wirreanda."
But how Schutt grew into a cricketer is something of a "right place, right time" story that started when she was 11.
"We used to play cricket on the road and we'd use whatever we could find - a tennis racquet, whatever - and one day, someone needed a fill-in for a club game at Seaford. In that game, I got bowled first ball, but I took a wicket with my first ball, too."
Watching from beyond the boundary that day was a person forming a girls' team, which Schutt was asked to join. She "didn't know the rules or anything," but somehow she was "fluky good" at the game and was soon after spotted by a SAPSASA scout.
By the age of 13 she was playing district cricket for Sturt and then followed the state pathways: under-15s, under-17 and under-19 teams and was signed to play for the SA Scorpions - the state's top women's cricket team - by 16.
Then came the green and gold. She debuted in Australian colours in December, 2012 when she was 19 and two months later she was leading Australia's bowling attack to a one-day international World Cup win over the West Indies in India.
But it's not as if that fabulous international start guaranteed her success. Far from it. In fact, she was often unsure whether she deserved her spot in the team.
"I had a patch at the start of my career that was really awesome, I went from 0 to 100, got thrown in it, but I didn't think I belonged to be there and spent a fair bit of time on the bench after that," she says.
"I think I took things for granted and I had to figure out how lucky I was to be playing a sport among really good people and a sport that is an incredible sport, it's so simple yet so complicated.
"But I had to learn work ethic. I got in trouble a few times. I was on tour and spent a year and a half on the bench … I hated it, but it was something that has made me the cricketer I am today, because it taught me it's not going to be given to me on a platter.
"I had a bit of a reality check. I needed a kick up the butt."
That kick up the butt came in the form of current Australian Women's Cricket team coach Matthew Mott, who replaced Cathryn Fitzpatrick in early 2015.
"'Motty' gave me the confidence to be who I am as a person," Schutt muses. "I wasn't always comfortable in my own skin and especially even in the cricket environment; he came in and said I need to stop taking it so seriously and just learn that you're not actually going to play the game that well if you're not enjoying it.
"Once I started doing that and obviously also developing as a person off the field as well, while working hard in cricket, then my career took off."
Took off it did: Schutt, now aged 27, is currently the ICC's No. 1 ranked women's T20 bowler. She is the world's No. 3 ranked bowler in the 50-over format. In 2018 she became the first Australian woman to take a hat-trick in the one-day international format and in 2019 became the first woman in the world to take a hat-trick in both ODI and T20 formats.
Schutt acknowledges that the development of herself off-field has been vital to her on-field performances and credits her wife, Jess, whom she married in McLaren Vale in March last year as key to that.
"That's kind of a given: everyone can work hard in cricket, but if you don't develop other areas in life then you're probably not going to excel," she says.
"Jess has been my biggest supporter over the last four and a half years, I know that I'm really lucky to have the life that I have and I just try and live it every day."
As she ages, Schutt has changed in important ways: she's more open, and she's allowed herself to be vulnerable.
"For me, it was being a more open person, with myself, more so than other people. Becoming more vulnerable, more open minded, I can better receive feedback than I used to; I used to just take it as criticism rather than someone is trying to help me.
"Those have been big things for me and then just finding a balance outside and being happy in a relationship. For me, growing up, I didn't like talking about my feelings or hugging or any of that kind of stuff because I just thought it resembled being soft.
"And then as I've grown up, I've actually seen that that's the better way to be because if you open yourself up, then other people open up too and that's when you get a true connection. Also being vulnerable for feedback and stuff as well, is just copping things on the chin and realising that getting dropped or being told to work on things, is just a part of sport and not to take that personally."
Laughter has become an important tool in her life too. "I have an odd sense of humour in a lot of ways; I love both dry and crude humour. So some comedies I watch that are hilarious to me, others will look at me like I'm a crazy idiot.
"The old-school ones like Wrongfully Accused, the Naked Gun, anything with Leslie Nielsen back in the day, that kind of stupid humour. But as I'm getting older, I'm learning to laugh more at things. I don't take things too seriously and laughing and smiling is contagious and I think if you can do it you can bring joy to someone else's life as well then you may as well.
"I know I keep saying I'm getting older, but I'm just having better perspective on what life should be about, I guess. And that it's easy if you try, to actually make things more positive and a happier environment."
Schutt follows politics closely and is a proud gay-rights advocate. Because of this, a couple of years ago, she was often described as a "rebel with a cause". That label is used less and less these days to explain her, but it's not that she's any less "rebellious".
"I just think their perception of rebel has changed," she muses. "I wouldn't say that I've changed, it's just perhaps we're more accepting of the things I used to say or interpret back then.
"I was a bit of a rebel kid in the sense that I just used to do whatever I wanted and that's when they used the word rebel, probably back then being so open and honest and having strong opinions and views was seen as rebellious, whereas now, no, that's actually a personality and that's what a lot of the players have if you actually let them be themselves and present that."
At her core, Schutt - known as 'Shooter' on the pitch - is all about sticking up for what you believe in, whether that's in cricket or in life. To that end, she has the word "Believe" tattooed on her left wrist. On her right, she has "No Place for Hate". On her collar bone is written "Be a voice, not an echo".
There are a few smaller ones on her feet: a pineapple with sunglasses, and a flamingo with a top hat. She has a large fox running down one side of her torso.
"I have always thought that foxes are my spirit animal," Schutt says. "They're annoying, they're there when you don't want them to be, there's lots of them, they're sly. But at the same time they're a beautiful animal. They're cuddly if you let them be. I don't know: I just really liked them and I thought that if I was to be a spirit animal, it would probably be a fox."
Then, of course, there's the huge Alice in Wonderland scene that runs the entire length of one side of her back. There's the Cheshire cat, the words "Drink Me", a falling Alice and the white rabbit jumping over a queen of hearts playing card into an upturned top hat. It is a thoughtful representation of a film that has helped shaped her. But this tattoo is very rarely seen. The vast majority of her tattoos are hidden and that's deliberate. (No Place for Hate, however, is purposefully visible as a way of inspiring others to be more accepting).
What people see on Schutt's back when she is playing cricket in Australian colours is the number 3.
"Three is my third favourite number," she says. "So when I first debuted for Australia and I could pick my number, I couldn't have 27 (her state playing number) because Jess Duffin at the time had it, and 21 is my second favourite number and Jess Jonassen has that, so I went with three.
"I have a thing with odd numbers … even number I just don't like. I think I like the fact that odd numbers multiply differently. It felt like that in maths: multiplying even numbers was just easy and so when things went odd, that was when it became a challenge and I don't know, I just kinda liked that and it turned into other little forms of my life.
"Like the number 27, which is my state number, the volume on the television has to be on 27 or on an odd number in general. I will only write down odd numbers if I'm writing random numbers."
Take it as a good sign, then - and cricketers love goods signs and omens - that last month she celebrated her 27th birthday.
She's older and wiser and is enjoying growing into leadership roles. Schutt was appointed captain of the Scorpions in 2018 and has relished the opportunity.
"I really do (like being captain) … it's been a big challenge and that's probably a good thing for me in a state environment," she says. "I spend a lot of time away from state cricket with my Australian career, so for me to come back in and rather than just going through the motions of playing a game or training here or there, it's no: you've got responsibility and it's obviously a big challenge on the field as well, to be accountable for the decisions you make out there.
"It's helped me probably be a little bit more sensible in a state environment, too. I will still be an idiot - just annoy the others or sometimes say things that others might deem inappropriate - but if it makes me laugh and it makes others laugh, then I'm going to say it.
"But I think just making sure that I am always setting the right example is important. There are a lot of young kids in our state side and for me, what I saw when I was 16 through the leaders of our state group were the professionalism, of what wasn't even yet a professional game at the time."
And despite not having an official leadership role at national level, she is certainly setting the standard among the younger members of the Aussie bowling unit, including Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham and Annabel Sutherland.
"At the moment I'm trying to take the kids under my wing. They're a good bunch and I wish I had their work ethic and perspective when I was younger. That's been a big thing for me, making sure that they come through and also see that cricket isn't the be-all and end-all and there is a life beyond it."