Dale Steyn is lifted into the air by Kagiso Rabada after breaking the South African record for most Test wickets. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Tattoos are tricky things. Primarily because they often don’t age very well, and leave awkward questions in middle age – and more than a tinge of regret.

In the case of Dale Steyn, South African cricket’s eternal chainsaw, there is a strong case for the Protea ink on his arm.

He emblazoned it as a badge of honour, a lasting homage to the band of brothers with whom he has walked unfathomable lands, and snatched notable landmarks.

Along the way, Steyn has defied the commonly-held perception that superstar cricketers have to come from certain places.

Ask the cricketing snobbery, and they will tell you that Test cricketers are not made in Tzaneen.

They will also add that Test legends don’t skate or surf, and they normally don’t wear their hair long.

They might even add that Test players these days are not as brutally honest in front of a camera as they might be in private.

And yet, Dale Steyn has cut against all these grains – an intoxicating mix of malice and malevolence, fiercely loyal to his ilk, and beautifully destructive from 22 yards.

What’s more, he is genuine and generous in his praise of contemporaries. He knows that praising the work of others is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.

Had Steyn been a flash in the Test pan, an urgent assassin who had three or four terrific seasons of plunder, his impact would still have been noteworthy.

A combination of pace, swing and accuracy is not supposed to last beyond a decade, because those are three perilous balls to juggle at once.

And yet, 422 wickets later, there he stands, still delivering boomeranged bamboozlement as if he were still a novice – someone still to be worked over and out.

Yet there he stands, still a fantastic factor and still the heartbeat of a change-room that misses him like mashed potatoes miss butter in the heart of winter.

Allan Donald announced South Africa in the post-isolation era. Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini confirmed the Rainbow Nation’s presence, but Steyn elevated it.

That is what a spearhead does; he leads from the front.

Steyn plays cricket in the way he has always approached life. Much like a skateboarder approaches a half-pipe, or a surfer doggie-paddling towards a mounting rip.

Steyn is all in when he steps on the field. No holds barred, no responsibilities shirked and no quarter given.

Boy, has he been good.

Across all surfaces, against all comers, he has maintained an unerring sense of purpose and occasion, and done it with a blood-shot intent in the eye that lets you well know that this thing matters.

Every. Single. Ball.

The history books have been rewritten, but so too have the logical theories of where cricketing legends are supposed to hail from.

Steyn has defied all logic, and his longevity is as impressive as the regularity of his strike-rate.

He was that rare thing, capable of conjuring much – so, so much – from almost nothing.

Indeed, he is often at his most potent in the graveyard shift just before the end of play. As the shadows lengthened, Steyn would often return strengthened.

Graeme Smith would chuck him the leather without fail. Hashim Amla too.

Now, Faf du Plessis does the same, safe in the knowledge that he will make something happen.

Dale Steyn gets into his chainsaw celebration after dismissing Asad Shafiq at Centurion on Thursday. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Admired in India. Lauded in Australia. Revered in England, and absolutely adored in South Africa, Steyn and his manic celebrations have kept the fast-bowling candle burning bright, even at a time when it’s more fashionable and profitable to be a batter.

By sheer personality and performance, he has tattooed himself into the hearts of millions of cricket lovers, because he simply made the game infinitely more watchable.

And, what’s more, his numbers will age like the finest of vintages.

Not bad for a skater boy from Tzaneen...

@whamzam17


The Mercury

Like IOL Sport on Facebook

Follow IOL Sport on Twitter