Kohli, Hussey and Fortnite: The inspirations behind Leonardo Julien
When Leonardo Julien, the West Indies U-19 wicketkeeper-batsman was growing up, he would play backyard cricket with his two brothers. But they wouldn’t go easy on young Leonardo, who was the youngest of the trio. The brothers would bowl at him with the hard rubber ball, and one day a delivery hit him so hard that he remembers throwing his bat away and running back into his house.
“Come back”, Julien remembers his father shouting at him. “Only babies cry.”
It was at that very moment that Julien’s perspective as a cricketer changed.
“That incident toughened me up,” Julien tells ESPNcricinfo. “After that, I realised I need to be stronger. I developed my game such that no one could beat me for pace moving on. No one could make me cry.”
Julien’s love for the game began when he was six, watching his two brothers leave for training while he was left behind at home. It was the main reason why they would entertain him with some backyard cricket in the first place, to pacify him. By the age of seven, Julien was padding up at a local cricket academy in Trinidad trying to emulate them.
While the careers of his brothers faded away, Julien took giant strides on the cricket field. Originally, just like the other kids of his age, Julien wanted to try everything, but he especially wanted to bowl off-spin.
But what made Julien switch to being a wicketkeeper was his curious soul. When he was nine, while training one day, he found the wicketkeeping gloves of Bryan Christmas – who earned fame as a 14-year old playing the 2011 U-19 World Cup – lying around. Julien picked them up and wore them. Within two years, he was the designated wicketkeeper for the Trinidad youth team.
“I wanted to do everything when I was smaller, so I used to bowl,” Julien says. “My first choice was bowling and then batting. When I wore Christmas’ wicketkeeping gloves one day, I liked the feel of it on my hands.
“The next year, in a game where the keeper got injured, a coach asked the team ‘who wanna keep?’ I screamed, ‘me!’ I’ve been a keeper since.”
These days, when Julien isn’t representing West Indies U-19, he plays for the Trinidad and Tobago Red Force. His batting inspirations are Michael Hussey – because of “how aggressive he was in running between the wickets” – and Virat Kohli, for the way “he maneuvers the game.”
“The way Kohli grabs the game with his hands, that’s how I want to be,” Julien says. “My playing style is like him – aggressive, but at the same time I can also stay in the wicket for a long time because I love scoring runs. I want to own all three formats – T20s, ODIs and Tests – like him.”
Julien has always been a prodigy. When he won the West Indies Regional U-17 championship in 2016, he was only 14. But he doesn’t regret his formative years playing cricket instead of indulging in childhood mischief. He finds inspiration in video games, especially Fortnite, the first-person-shooting multiplayer game with more than 250 million players worldwide, and draws some parallels that it has with cricket.
“Fortnite is a game that actually inspires me,” Julien says. “It’s entertainment but it also helps me think. Fortnite is all about strategising, on how to get on top of your opponent. You need to have a strategy with a clear plan. It has helped me think on my feet.”
Julien has had a quiet World Cup in South Africa. He has made only 82 runs in four games, with a high score of 40. But West Indian wicketkeepers have traditionally transitioned successfully into the senior sides in years to come. The 2008 alumni Devon Thomas has played for West Indies. The 2010 runner-up Shane Dowrich did too. From the 2012 squad, wicketkeeper Sunil Ambris made his international debut two years ago, and the two wicketkeepers in the squad from 2014 – Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran – are now regulars in the country’s white-ball set ups.
Can 2020’s Julien do the same?