Bangladesh v South Africa, 2nd Test, Mirpur, 1st day July 30, 2015

Four hundred reasons to celebrate Steyn

Skill, speed, swing and a famously spicy attitude have put Dale Steyn among the top sportsmen of his generation. And he plans to stay there for as long as he can

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The stat that sets Dale Steyn apart in the 400-club

It's not enough for Dale Steyn that he has become the joint second fastest bowler to 400 Test wickets, equalling Richard Hadlee's 80 matches. It's not enough that he became only the second South African to the landmark after Shaun Pollock. He is still 100 scalps away from where he really wants to be.

"I hope he gets to 500 wickets because that's what he wants to do. That's what he said to me and if he does, that will be stupendous," Allan Donald, Steyn's former bowling coach, told ESPNcricinfo.

Already, Steyn has achieved enough for Donald to call him an "all-time great." Skill, speed, swing and a famously spicy attitude have put Steyn among the top sportsmen of his generation.

"What separates him from the rest is his competitive edge. He has hunger," Donald said. "When he gets up in the morning, his goal for the day is that he wants to be the guy who makes the biggest difference for the team." Often, Steyn goes to bed having achieved that goal.

South Africa have won or drawn more than three quarters of the Tests Steyn has played - 61 out of 79 matches. That statistic alone speaks of the way Steyn has stepped up to lead the attack, particularly when the senior statesmen moved on.

"He answered the call," Donald said. "He took on the responsibility after South Africa lost Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini to be the spearhead."

Steyn has been steering South Africa to success since he stormed on to the stage. He took a seven-for in only his fourth game, against New Zealand in 2006, and nearly a decade later took another seven-for, against West Indies this January. That kind of consistency over that length of time does not come often, and for Donald it is a combination of discipline and dread that has made Steyn special. "When he is in top form, his accuracy combined with his aggression and skill, just makes for an awesome package."

And right now, even as Steyn has become the 13th member of the elite club of 400, he is, perhaps unluckily, not in top form. But maybe the milestone coming in what has been a difficult year for Steyn makes it more special. He has had to deal with World Cup heartache first-hand, being benched for most of the IPL, and then an international comeback from the cold. Some have even wondered whether he has lost his heat.

Steyn was given more than a month off and missed most of the tour of Bangladesh. He still seemed to be loosening up during the first Test. Instead of his usual fire, he looked a little flat and Donald could immediately see why. "He is bowling a lot of cross seam and he might be undercutting the ball slightly. That happens in one-day cricket when he is bowling at the end of the Powerplay but in Test cricket, he tends to want the ball more seam up," Donald said. "It might be a bit of a hangover from that or it might be a tactical move on a slow, low wicket but he will come into his own."

With 32-year-old Steyn being strategically managed, it may just take a little more time to get to the 500 mark, but Donald feels there is no reason to worry. "Once you are on the wrong side of 30, you have to work harder to stay on the field a lot longer. Both recent coaches, Gary Kirsten and Russell Domingo, have looked after him and his workload really well. We have to understand that after a period of rest, you need some time to get back to full swing," Donald explained. "But Dale is fighting his way back. Top sportsmen always find a way and he will too. He has a lot left. He is so lean and light on his feet that he can keep going for a good while yet."

In the short term, Steyn will go to India, where he first established himself as a fast-bowling sniper even on subcontinent pitches. His ten-wicket match haul in Nagpur in 2010 was as ruthless a display of reverse-swing as they come. He will have an opportunity to repeat that later this year, when South Africa go back to Nagpur for their first four-Test series in India. "South Africa need Dale Steyn to be at his best in India because that's where the real questions about the attack get asked and that's the kind of situation that really gets Steyn going," Donald said.

That's where, 400 wickets later, the magic of Steyn lies: in the way he manufactures theatre and the marvellous results that follow. "When you are aggressive and competitive, you can do that. He gets himself into that state. It comes naturally to him, it is not an act," Donald said. "When those guys go large, you have to watch out."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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