It is always easier to appreciate whistle-blowers in retrospect than in the heat of the moment. But with the bulbous-cheeked Aditya Verma, even his worst critics will acknowledge the impact he has made in the here and now. The IPL spot-fixing case that promised a clean-up of the system didn’t quite play out that way but the old order did change.
Bihar cricket regained its affiliation with parent body BCCI, a case Verma says he has been at since 2005, and old hands like N Srinivasan were forced to relinquish their hold on the board that now has a new Supreme Court-mandated constitution.
Nine years back, like now, it was May, the IPL month. An early morning newsbreak would inform the world about the arrest of three Rajasthan Royals cricketers – S Sreesanth, Ankit Chauhan and Ajit Chandila. They would face charges of dalliance with bookies. In the same month of 2013, then BCCI president and CSK owner Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan would be charged with betting on IPL games. Within a month, the Indian board’s inquiry would give everyone a clean chit. Srinivasan would continue to be at the helm.
Enter Verma, a one-time Tata employee who took voluntary retirement and was now based out of Patna. As a Bihar cricket representative, he would approach the Bombay High Court questioning BCCI’s internal probe. This legal process would end with a Supreme Court order that would be the basis of a new BCCI constitution.
The Lodha committee would put in place a new cricketing order – officials wouldn’t have unending stints. The SC-appointed Committee of Administrators would be put in charge and after six years, in 2019, the cricket administrators would get the reins again. Sourav Ganguly would be president and Jay Shah secretary. They would go on to challenge the apex court order in Verma’s petition.
In the interim, the original challenger would change colours. He now sides with the men he hunted, effortlessly substitutes his one-time caustic barbs for the likes of Srinivasan with over-the-top raves, promotes the cause of his son, a Ranji Trophy cricketer who has played four games for Bihar, asks for exceptions to be made in Court-mandated reforms to allow the likes of Ganguly and Shah to discard cooling-off periods.
A couple of years back, Verma, speaking to PTI, seemed to go against his own earlier convictions, arguing how Ganguly and Shah should continue in their posts. “I have decided to file a plea that the apex court should let Sourav Ganguly and his team (secretary Jay Shah in this case) continue for a term of three years,” Verma said. “If a person of Sourav’s stature can’t complete his term, then what’s the use? I believe Dada and Jay Shah should get a full term to again stabilise the BCCI.”
But in a long interview to The Indian Express, he denies giving the statement or even filing a petition. “My meaning was that the apex court sees everything and understands everything. The BCCI people have also filed an application for an amendment. What can I do about this? My battle had begun for Bihar cricket.”
A father of two, Verma, says he is ‘no Mukesh Ambani or Adani’ and with ‘the grace of God, I get food.’ He says his is a business family. Verma these days profusely praises Srinivasan, his one-time target. Sample this from a few years back: “Srinivasan is consciously tarnishing the image of some cricketing idols only to save himself.” Today, he raves about the same man as a “gem of Indian cricket”.
“Srinivasan was the King because he tried to improve the condition of Indian cricket by putting in money from his own pocket, and by offering jobs to players in his own company. Srinivasan is and will always be a gem of Indian cricket. BCCI should take advice from him from time to time in order to work in favour of cricket,” Verma had said.
These days, unlike in the past, Verma doesn’t talk about Indian cricket. He has gone micro, putting all his eggs in the Bihar cricket basket, and says his desire is to cleanse the system there. “Koi mai ka lal can’t buy me for cricket, can anyone say I have pocketed even one paisa from Bihar cricket?” He raises questions on the morality of his critics. “Sattar chuha kha kar chali billi Haj ko (The cat went on the pilgrimage after eating 70 mice).”
The world might have differing views on him but it’s fascinating how he sees himself. “I see myself as the Anna Hazare of Bihar Cricket,” says Verma.
Not all agree with Verma’s self-assessment. “Aditya Verma is the biggest nuisance-maker of Bihar cricket,” BCA president Rakesh Tiwary told The Indian Express. “He is always involved in absurd things. He often files fake lawsuits.” Former coach Nikhilesh Ranjan says Verma’s views change depending on the status of his cricketer-son. “Verma’s love for Bihar Cricket starts and ends with his son. If his son plays, he talks in favour of Bihar. As soon as his son is dropped, he starts pointing out the faults in Bihar cricket. It is very unfortunate that whenever his son plays, either I am the selector or I end up becoming the coach,” Ranjan says.
His allegations about the son is the current hot potato amongst critics. Verma’s son, Lakhan, has scored 86 runs in four first-class games. He also won the Bihar cap in four List A matches in which he has tallied 17 runs.
As ever, Verma, who loves third-person self-references, has not only the answers but also hits back. “I want to ask these people where they were when Aditya Verma started the battle. Did it come to me in a dream back then that my son will go on to play cricket? Today, the selectors have chosen a team for NCA and my son is also one of the seven players that have been chosen from Bihar, so have I got him selected? Those people who themselves create a nuisance and have opened a shop will make these silly remarks because Aditya Verma raises his voice at all these people’s theft.”
On Verma’s Twitter feed, anti-BCA posts flood his timeline as soon as his son is dropped and it goes silent when he is in the team. “Even Sachin’s (Tendulkar) son is criticised, so what is Aditya Verma and his son in such a scenario. The entire dressing room, along with the coach and support staff, everyone is against him, so what will my son do? In one match against Kolkata at Eden Gardens, he scored 48 runs from 184 balls, even then he was not played in the next match. But I know that the day the BCCI takes control of BCA, my son will perform and you will take his interview.”
Verma has only good things to say about his one-time backer Lalit Modi, who had publicly said that he supports Verma as an enemy of an enemy is a friend.
“Lalit Modi was not a monster of Indian cricket. If IPL has become a global thing, it is because of Lalit Modi. He became prey to the politics of the BCCI,” Verma says.
When pressed about how he has now allied with Srinivasan, the same man he had rallied against in almost polemic terms once, he shoots back, “I could have easily struck a deal with Srinivasan ji and my son could have become a big player and I would have got so much money that two generations of my family could have enjoyed. But I never did so. Cricket is my love, my passion. I live in a rented house but when it comes to cricket, no one in this world can buy me.” Or as he says, “I want to die on a cricket field. If I take another birth in the form of a human being, I want to come back as a cricketer.”
Therein lies the rub, and the tale of Verma. Muckraker, polemist, loyalty-switcher, a pawn in the hands of more powerful men in the board. But despite all the twists and changes in his stance and character, his accusations have more than a whiff of a truth about them. Verma vs Verma is still a sideshow.