This summer, he is back in the UK for the fourth time, playing as the overseas player for South Shields Cricket Club, who play in the North East Premier League 2. This has been a remarkable journey, which is largely due to the efforts and work of several people, including the charity Cricket Beyond Boundaries, and countless others who have supported him along the way.
In 2012, Sahil Kukreja, a then recently-retired Indian first-class cricketer for Mumbai, visited the children’s home to mark his late father’s birthday. “It was in 2012 when I spotted some of the kids playing cricket with a broken bat and no shoes. Then and there, I decided to start a coaching camp for these underprivileged kids and try to give them a new lease of life,” Kukreja said.
Kukreja was instrumental in Rupesh’s trips to the UK, the first of which was in the summer of 2015, when he came to spend 3 weeks at Durham School, honing his cricket skills under the coaching of Mike Fishwick, as well as furthering his education, attending some of the classes. It was a daunting situation for Rupesh, suddenly thrown into a completely different life with no friends and very poor English. Whereas at the Children’s Home he had lived in a room of 50 square feet with 29 other children, all sleeping on the floor, he now found himself with his own room and a bed. Despite these vast improvements in facilities, however, it was still difficult for him. “He started crying as soon as I wanted to leave,” said Kukreja. “The poor 13-year-old had no clue what was going on around him”.
3 weeks later when he was due to return home, there were tears again, but this time they were because he did not want to leave. The staff, and particularly the students at Durham School, had been so welcoming to him he wanted to stay. “They treated him as someone of their own and took him around, showed him the city, cricket games and also their class rooms,” said Kukreja. Mike Fishwick, 1st XI coach at Durham School, also had this to say: “Rupesh came to Durham School four years ago as a shy Indian boy totally out of his comfort zone, but he made a massive impact on everyone at the school.” From all accounts the experience also benefitted the boys, due to their exposure to someone from an utterly different background to themselves. “He got stuck into school life and made friends very easily, everyone respected him so much and wanted to know everything about him…He was a joy to be around and I wish him all the best for the future”, said Luke Henderson, 1st XI captain at Durham School for the two seasons Rupesh stayed at Durham School.
Since his first year, Rupesh has been back on three occasions, the first of which was a return to Durham School in 2016. “We…asked him to improve his grades with the carrot of another trip to the UK. This actually happened; his keenness to go back helped and his grades improved”, says Kukreja. Following this, he returned in the summer of 2017 to play for South Shields Cricket Club 2nd XI. “He has now progressed to be the overseas player at South Shields CC and can speak excellent English and has the confidence to communicate with everyone he meets,” says Fishwick. Whilst playing at South Shields, he has been hosted by Jill Bell and her family. This has become a second home for him; “Rupesh is my Indian son. He calls me his English mom. When he returned to Mumbai last year, he used to message me every week to let me know how he was doing. He tells everyone that Alan and I are his English parents and Andrew is his English brother,” says Bell.
Some of the cricketers coming over the Cricket Beyond Boundaries have also caught the eye of Durham CCC, with a few being invited to train with Durham Academy. “Cricket Beyond Boundaries is an outstanding charity doing some fabulous work to help disadvantaged youngsters improve their life through cricket…we are proud to be involved with CBB”, said John Windows, the current Head Coach at the Academy. Whilst some might argue that providing short-term opportunities like this to just a relatively small number of children has limited benefits, Kukreja says otherwise: “Three weeks in [the] UK will not change his [Rupesh’s] life forever. But back at the Children’s Home, it will give the rest of the kids an added motivation, a new dream. And that’s what I am here to do”. “Rupesh after coming back to India gave another 400 children an opportunity to dream of having a good life”, says Kukreja.
The exchange between Durham School and the Children’s Home has had other benefits. In February 2017, Durham School took seven boys to visit the home in Mumbai, and they raise money which is donated to the home, helping provide a better life for the children there. “To see the way the Indian boys train so hard in such a harsh living environment compared to how our boys live. This will hopefully give them a great perspective on life; learn to work hard and not to take the fortunate position they are in for granted”, said Mike Fishwick, 1st XI coach at Durham School.
@ Cricket Beyond Boundaries