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The Derek Alberts Column: Steyn leaves his mark

"I just stood there and scratched my nuts."

Those were the words of Dale Steyn, the best bowler on the planet, to me, on stage, at an event being broadcast on live television.

Steyn had just been named the T20 cricketer of the year at the SA Cricket awards, an event that I was co-hosting, and once he received his trophy, the two of us had a quick conversation over the microphone.

I congratulated him on the achievement, to which he replied that it was undeserved as he couldn't recall even having played any T20s over the previous twelve months.

It was classic Dale. Humble and forthright.

I expected as much, but nothing could've prepared me for his next response.

At the time, Steyn had just made a cameo appearance in Adam Sandler's latest movie, Blended.

He played a cricketer who teaches Sandler's character's son how to play the sport.

I hadn't yet seen the film, so asked him about it.

That's when he gave the testicle answer in question, much to the delight of everyone in the audience, and, I'm sure, everyone watching on TV as well.

Nothing is predictable when it comes to Steyn.

He is an extremely rare breed. One of cricket's greatest ever players, but completely unaffected by the hype that the title carries with it.

Athletes, particularly cricketers, often plead ignorance when it comes to their stats, but more often than not they're aware of every finite detail and know exactly what they need to achieve in order to bump up the figures.

I remember sitting with a former test cricketer at the launch of the _SA Cricket Annual _a few years back, the book of course a veritable encyclopaedia of cricketing statistics, and he asked me to quiz him on some of his own achievements. He knew it all, down to the last decimal.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but Steyn is the complete opposite. The 32-year-old comes across as someone who genuinely couldn't care less about what is written in black and white, as long as he performs on the field. Of course, it could all be an act, but I highly doubt it.

I was present at his Test debut, back in 2004 at St Georges Park, and while statistics will tell you that it wasn't too memorable in that he grabbed match figures of 3/146 in a losing cause, it's what they don't tell you that is more telling.

One moment set Steyn apart from the rest.

After having his second and fifth deliveries of an over carted to the boundary by then-England captain Michael Vaughn, the 21-year-old Steyn charged in for his final ball. The red bullet angled into the batsman's pads, as Vaughn readied himself for another on-drive. Almost impossibly, the ball, operating at 130kph, changed course so late that the batsman never got a splinter to it, as it sent his off-stump flying in spectacular fashion.

The delivery was simply unplayable, and as Steyn later told www.cricinfo.com, kick-started his career in a similar way in which Shane Warne's 'Ball of the Century' to Mike Gatting launched his own.

Not long after that, Steyn teamed up with one of my best friends Steve Hill in the Rough Stuff Challenge in Zambia, a two-day competition which was basically a giant, but gruelling obstacle race. The pair ended up winning the thing, with Hill blown away by his teammate's competitive spirit. Hill was particularly impressed with Steyn's main motivation to win, the bowler repeatedly saying that he just wanted to be "number one in something".

Fast forward ten years, and Steyn has been the number one Test bowler for most of the last decade.

There are others that are good, but no one has been able to do it as well, as consistently, as the Phalaborwa Express. He is often compared to Jimmy Anderson, but don't be fooled. While the Englishman can be world class when conditions suit him, he can be equally horrific when certain factors don't go his way.

Steyn needs no aides to assist his craft. He is deadly no matter the country, and can breathe life into the deadest of pitches. I witnessed this first hand in the tiny city of Nagpur, India, in 2010.

There is not a bowler alive that can do what Steyn did to the Indians on a pitch which could very well have been the road we travelled on to get to the stadium. After the Proteas piled on a mammoth 558/6 declared in their innings, of which Hashim Amla contributed a double ton, Steyn made short work of their opponents. He opened his account with the wicket of Murali Vijay, working him out to perfection by following up two outswingers with an inch-perfect inswinger which the batsman shouldered arms to, only to see his stumps torn apart.

Tendulkar, Badrinath, Saha, Khan, Mishra and Singh soon followed suit as Steyn finished the innings with figures of 7 for 51 in a display of bowling which India captain MS Dhoni later described as the best he had ever seen. He wasn't alone.

Of course there have been some tough times too, but those are few and far between, which is exactly what makes Steyn so special. That, coupled with his personality.

As aggressive as he is on the field, he is equally approachable off it, and as I've already mentioned, marches, nay, gallops to the beat of his own drum.

My wife Ane's first introduction to him was at an event we attended together to welcome the English team ahead of their tour. It was days before I was due to take part in my first ever cycle race, and when Dale found out he offered me one piece of advice: "Buy anti-chafe cream and cover your nuts with it."

Again, classic Dale, but we wouldn't want him any other way.

When he removed Tamim Iqbal on day one of the second Test in Mirpur, Steyn took his test wicket total to 400, joining an elite group of men which now totals just 13. The bowler may insist that he cares little for stats, but even he will find it hard to ignore that magical number, which he achieved with comfortably the lowest strike rate of 41.6.

A fast bowler is often tossed to the scrap heap by the time they reach 32, but Steyn is far from retirement. He remains the world's best bowler in the world's best team, and refuted any suggestion that he would soon be calling it quits by simply saying, "I just want to bowl, man".

That's fine by us, although he could lose the headband.

Derek Alberts is a sports anchor at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @derekalberts1