JUSTIN LANGER: What Krunal Pandya, Shane Warne, David Beckham and KL Rahul all have in common

Justin Langer
The Nightly
6 Min Read
JUSTIN LANGER: One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given was “always be yourself”. Simple as this sounds, it is often not. Pictured: Krunal Pandya and Shane Warne.
JUSTIN LANGER: One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given was “always be yourself”. Simple as this sounds, it is often not. Pictured: Krunal Pandya and Shane Warne. Credit: The Nightly

A red Gucci robe with golden tassels, accompanied by round John Lennon glasses. A magnificent flowing hair transplant and a pair of silken pyjama-looking clothes worn throughout the day.

Call him a rock star _ some may say a complete clown, but that’s how one of the players in my team here in India gets around every day.

When I first met Krunal Pandya, I was a little taken aback, but the more I get to know him, he makes me smile every day.

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That’s just him.

Underneath the swagger and audacious attire is a very warm, deep-thinking man, who has a life story that keeps you transfixed with every word.

Why he gets around like he does, I’m not certain, but what I am certain about is that he is comfortable in his skin, and he owns who he is. For this, I have great admiration.

When he steps out of his fancy gear, he is a warrior in his profession, and he plays with a spirit that can inspire his team.

On and off the field he knows who he is, he trusts himself and doesn’t seem to care about what others may think about him. There is freedom in this attitude.

Krunal Pandya.
Krunal Pandya. Credit: Unknown/Instagram

Having seen images of the Met Gala in Manhattan, and Eurovision in Sweden this week, where absolutely 1000 per cent of the ‘get-ups’ are outrageous, and where the crazier they are the better, it’s fun to look at how people want to represent themselves to the world.

Crazy as it may seem, I’m a little envious of how much fun they must be having, showing themselves off to the masses.

It’s easy to bag people who look different, but I love seeing how individuals express themselves.

If it makes them feel good, then surely that is a better alternative than conforming to society’s expectations so ‘others’ feel OK?

While the Met Gala and Eurovision are global events, the IPL in my world, is as global as it gets.

Along with our rock-star spinner, we have our captain KL Rahul.

He is mild-mannered, kind, thoughtful and softly spoken. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, as they say.

He is also covered in tattoos. His body is like a work of artistic genius. He is not alone. David Beckham is in the same ilk.

Manchester United's David Beckham celebrates his goal against West Ham United during their FA Premiership match at Old Trafford in Manchester Saturday, April 1, 2000.
Manchester United's David Beckham celebrates his goal against West Ham United during their FA Premiership match at Old Trafford in Manchester Saturday, April 1, 2000. Credit: PAUL BARKER/AP

Once upon a time, tattoos were linked to criminals, sailors and thugs, these days, they seem to be the norm. Bad? I wouldn’t say so, especially if they make their owner feel happy.

A friend of mine had me in raptures this week when we were discussing tattoos. He said, “hang on, look at the ‘untattooed’ man over there, how weird is he.”

How times have changed?

My daughter Ali has several tattoos. She also has a stud in her nose (God forbid).

But you know what? That is just her, and I love her individuality and her style. Not only is she cool, but she owns who she is.

Some may not like seeing girls with tattoos and nose rings. Or sports stars with their limbs inked from fingers to neck, but that’s OK. Those same people may do things that others don’t like, but if that’s what makes them happy and they’re not physically hurting anyone, so be it.

What about this? Imagine the day Shane Warne walked into the Australian cricket changing room. The old guard of Allan Border, David Boon, and coach Bob Simpson must have fallen off their seats or whispered behind his back.

 Shane Warne in 1994.
Shane Warne in 1994. Credit: Adford/Getty Images

Peroxide-blonde mullet, sparkling earring, cigarette packet in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. His cheeky grin and penchant for fast cars and pretty women would have conjured the perception of, “Here we go, look at this young upstart”.

But it didn’t take long for him to win them over.

Not only was he a talented, and eventually a great bowler, but he was real, and he was true to himself, and they loved him for that. Despite some of his behaviours _ which bucked the trend of societal expectations _ most of the world loved him because he was not only a superstar player, but he was always true to himself and owned up to his misdemeanours as required.

At times his costumes and behaviours were outlandish, but he owned them and didn’t seem to care about the perception others may have had of him.

Manchester United’s legendary manager Alex Ferguson used to forbid any player from wearing anything but black boots unless they were chosen for the first team. The day they made the first team they could wear their favourite boots, but until then, it was black, and black only.

These days the players wear pink, gold, blue, green; really, anything that takes their fancy. They carry different hairstyles and wear different gear. For some, this is a major issue, but as I have lived through these changing eras, I have evolved to be less than fussed.

In fact, I am learning more and more to enjoy individuality and the way people express themselves.

As millions of people would have observed by watching the Netflix documentary Beckham, Ferguson and his star player David Beckham often clashed. One time was when the pair had an argument at training. In response, the legendary midfielder lopped off his golden locks and stunned the soccer world with a shaven head.

But his wife Victoria said it was simply a coming of age for her husband.

“David starts going from a boy to a man and it’s only natural you’re going to start flexing your muscles, right? And don’t all kids rebel against their parents?” she said.

Soon after, Beckham also sported a mohawk, stating at the time: “It’s just me”.

The truth is, I have not met anyone who is great at what they do unless they are a bit different. You must be, or you would just be another sheep in the herd.

Here in the IPL, players wear golden mohawks, gold chains as thick as tyres and earrings that bling like chandeliers. That’s just how they roll these days. But there are also those who are as straight and humble as a schoolmaster during class hours. Either way, the best are true to themselves, be that bling or khaki.

I hear a lot these days about how we’re losing the characters from the game, and from life. There’s been some noise recently about the spate of brutal criticism through social media. Many people in the public eye are condoning this ignorant and cruel behaviour.

With this going on, I can’t help but wonder if individuals are developing more of a view that they are going to get bagged anyway, so they might as well be themselves, regardless of the negative publicity. And, you know what? That would be my advice to them anyway.

KL Rahul.
KL Rahul. Credit: Unknown/Instagram

You will never please everyone, so make sure you please yourself. Be yourself, express yourself and enjoy every minute of that. Until you do, you will never feel completely free.

On the other hand, it might be natural to baulk at something that’s different. But what if we pivoted our attitude, and enjoyed individuals who take our breath away and applaud them for having the courage to be themselves?

Regardless of the detractors, or being a detractor ourselves, we might just get more fun from life.

This week, I completed reading the book Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. The same author wrote one of my favourite books about Apple founder Steve Jobs.

In both cases Jobs and Musk, helped change the world through their vision, energy, passion, and work ethic. Both behaved badly at times, showing little empathy and compassion for others, but the one thing that seemed to distinguish them was their complete freedom to be themselves. In this freedom, they changed, or are, changing the world.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given was “always be yourself”. Simple as this sounds, it is often not.

The people I admire the most are the ones who have courage to be themselves and express who they are, regardless of the cynics.

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