Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Brendon McCullum: The tattooed icon who wears his love for his country on his sleeve

Swashbuckling cricket megastar Brendon McCullum has been a heavily-tattooed poster boy for a rapidly-evolving sport. As the 34-year-old bows out of international cricket, Kurt Bayer takes a close look at his love of body art. The ink tells the tale of McCullum's remarkable career and his love of family and country.

The most distinctive and renowned series of tattoos in world cricket. It features a scroll containing the Roman numerals CXXVI (126 - his One Day International cap number), XLII (42 - his limited overs shirt number), and CCXXIV (224 - his test cricket cap number). In the 1990s, legendary Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh suggested that player numbers be embroidered on clothing or caps. McCullum took it a step further by getting his etched on his skin.

The scroll is surrounded by a design he worked on with Christchurch tattoo artist Zane Swanston. It also features the birthdates of his children. "Some people have pictures on the walls of their homes. I'm not interested in that.

I have pictures on my body," says the Dunedin native, who now lives in Christchurch with wife Ellissa and three children. "The numbers represent something very special to me because I have always wanted to play cricket for my country."

Award-winning tattoo artist Rob Donovan, of Auckland studio Living Art, says the birthdates of children are "very popular" tattoos in New Zealand - regarded as being the most tattooed nation in the world. "Some people worry about making the wrong choice. They've heard stories about people who've regretted what they did," Mr Donovan said. "A safe bet, something that will never change, is your children. There's always a tattoo for everybody. It's whatever is personal for you."

Unable to wear his wedding ring while playing cricket and trying to catch the hard leather ball, McCullum honours his marriage to Australian-born wife at all times with the wedding band tattoo on his ring finger. Wedding band designs are popular with tradespeople, like mechanics, welders, and engineers who can't wear rings because of health and safety dangers, Mr Donovan said, along with men who "don't do jewellery".

Tattoos have become increasingly popular with sportspeople, especially rugby league, rugby and basketball players. International sportsmen and women often get silver ferns or Kiwis tattooed on them before big games or tournaments, Mr Donovan said. McCullum was one of the first global cricket players to outwardly flaunt body art. Other cricketers who have followed include ex-England batsman Kevin Pietersen, who has a Maori sleeve on his right arm, Indian superstar Virat Kohli and recently-retired Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson.

Mr Donovan described McCullum as cricket's tattooed "trailblazer".

His body art, and the way he approaches the modern game, particularly its shorter, more explosive formats, represent an evolving sport breaking away from its historically-staid, traditional and conservative roots, he said.

"I can't ever remember seeing a cricketer so heavily tattooed. He definitely broke the trend, saying 'this is not what cricket is anymore - we are evolving'," Mr Donovan said.

"Historically, [tattoos] were always regarded as a lower class thing for prostitutes, bikes, and jailbirds, but now the stigma has disappeared."

Mr Donovan often hears people warned off getting tattoos on the basis of, 'What will it look like when you're 60?'.

He argues it portrays someone who has "lived their life".

People who get tattoos, especially ones with significant personal meanings like McCullum's, states they are not afraid of what others think of them.

"Generally the people who have tattoos - people like Brendon McCullum - are the ones willing to say, 'This is who I am, this is my flag'."

- NZ Herald

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