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Photo credit: Usman Shuja/Umesh Kukreti
Former USA wicketkeeper-batsman Rahul Kukreti (pictured second from left with former USA teammates Sushil Nadkarni, Aditya Thyagarajan and Usman Shuja), who represented the country in ICC tournament play from 2004 to 2008, has passed away at age 43 after a battle with a rare form of cancer.
By Peter Della Penna (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna)
Rahul Kukreti, who represented USA on two overseas tours between 2004 and 2008, has passed away at the age of 43. Kukreti, who lived in the Dallas, Texas area since migrating to the USA from Chandigarh, Punjab, India as an 18-year-old in 1995, had been diagnosed in October 2018 with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, dedifferentiated chondrosarcoma. He died from the disease on Monday night, August 12 in Texas just 10 days after his 43rd birthday.
From the day Kukreti set foot in the country, he became a fabric of the cricket community in Dallas, Texas, immediately joining Dallas County Cricket Club where his uncle Umesh had already been a member. Kukreti stayed a member for 25 years, serving as captain for a seven-year stretch. He was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame earlier this year. According to former USA men’s national team manager Arun Vittala and longtime DCCC member Arun Vittala, Kukreti won the club’s Cricketer of the Year award on five occasions, more than any other member in the history of the club that was founded in 1964 and has included other USA national team representatives such as Jignesh Desai and Orlando Baker.
“I never saw him angry,” Baker said over the phone from Dallas, Texas on Saturday. “He was always fun. That guy had a smile that will forever be with me. I played so much club cricket with him and with the USA. He was born a leader and knew how to get the best out of his players. He was so good, kind and nice to people. That’s one of the reasons why so many people fall in love with Rahul. His cricket will always stand out but as an individual, he’s one of the best I’ve come across.”
“For me, it’s never a sad day. I’m celebrating Rahul’s life rather than being down because that’s how he lived. He always had a smile and a laugh. If Rahul was down, you would never know because he would never show it. We had some good memories, him being the keeper and I’m standing at first slip and we would chit chat and laugh about anything. We’d talk about life, family, business, everything. Those are memories I’ll keep with me for a long time.”
Kukreti represented the Central West Region region regularly, including as captain, at USACA National Tournaments before eventually going on to represent USA. The wicketkeeper-batsman made his unofficial debut for USA in 2003 against Cayman Islands and went on to represent USA on two ICC tours. His official USA debut came as a 27-year-old against Canada in Bermuda at the 2004 ICC Americas Division One Championship. Kukreti opened the batting alongside Mark Johnson, making 13 in a 54-run opening stand in USA’s eventual 76-run loss on Duckworth-Lewis Method.
Kukreti then played three more times for USA at the 2008 ICC WCL Division Five tournament in Jersey. He kept wicket in all three matches against Vanuatu, Germany and Nepal, completing one catch and one stumping. His only innings on that tour came against Nepal, where he was the second high score as he tried to shepherd the tail before being last man out for 20, including two sixes, as USA was bowled out for 93 in a 96-run loss. It was his final innings for USA at age 31. Aside from the two ICC tournaments Kukreti played in, he also represented a USA squad on an unofficial tour of India in September 2007.
USA Cricket board member Usman Shuja was Kukreti’s roommate on that 2008 tour to Jersey. Shuja, who had come to America in 2001 from Pakistan as an undergraduate at University of Texas-Austin, had developed a strong friendship with him before then as a teammate representing Central West together and continued long after both players stopped representing the national team. Shuja had traveled from Austin to visit him several times during his illness.
“Rahul lived his life exactly the way he played his cricket – 101% commitment on and off the field, caring for team members and not giving up until the last ball is bowled,” Shuja said in a statement via email. “What made him special was his exceptional ability to instill belief in teammates about their respective abilities and extract the best out of them under pressure. I am so humbled and honored that I could share a cricket pitch and practice nets with Rahul as he shaped my cricket significantly along with many other players in Texas and America.”
A GoFundMe fundraiser started in February by members of Dallas County Cricket Club to collect money for his medical expenses raised more than $160,000, highlighting how beloved he was not just in Dallas but across the entire USA cricket community. According to Vittala, Kukreti’s funeral on Thursday was packed, with many people flying in from around the country at short notice.
“He had a great ability to integrate people. It doesn’t matter which club, which person,” Vittala said. “There were nearly 500 people at his funeral, from every club, from so many cities. From Houston, Austin, New York, Chicago. Just an amazing person that people came from all over, and I’m talking just cricketers, not family.”
Kukreti went to University of Texas-Dallas and studied computer science, earning both a bachelor’s degree and a masters from the school before going on to work as an engineer in his professional career. He co-founded a tech startup company called mroads in 2011 and continued to serve as its chief marketing officer. Vittala said that discussions are already underway with city officials in the Dallas suburb of Plano to rename one of the local cricket grounds to memorialize Kukreti.
Kukreti is survived by his wife Abha and their three children: Swasti, 8; Siddanth, 7; and Samridh, 18 months. A GoFundMe fundraiser was started on Friday to raise money to pay for his children’s future education expenses. In just over 24 hours, more than $15,000 has been pledged. For those interested in donating, the link can be found here (https://www.gofundme.com/f/late-rahul-kukreti039s-3-kids-529-college-fund).