In a bizarre turn of events, the BCCI website (www.bcci.tv) went blank on a memorable weekend for Indian cricket because someone failed to pay the renewal fee for the domain registration. And that someone happens to be Lalit Modi, who's been a persona-non-grata for the BCCI for close to five years.
The site went down while India's Under-19 team was winning the junior World Cup on Saturday and the blackout lasted for nearly 24 hours, during which the seniors drubbed South Africa to take a 2-0 lead in the ODI series. And the BCCI officials could do nothing but wait because the domain is owned by Modi, who was banned by the board in 2013 and has been living in London since then as various government agencies pursue cases of financial irregularities against him.
The story dates back to 2007 when, in an illustration of how the board operated then, Modi, who was then one of the board's vice-presidents, registered numerous domains on behalf of the BCCI's various properties including the IPL under his own name instead of BCCI's.
According to a BCCI official, Modi registered almost 100 domains and got the costs reimbursed by the board.
Modi, speaking to ESPNcricinfo, denied that he had been reimbursed for the domains.* The money he got from the BCCI was solely for the third-party content that was hosted on the board's website a decade ago, he said: "I got reimbursed only for the content that was managed by a third party, which I had paid for."
According to Modi, in 2006 there was an offer made by a third party, which wanted to sell the domain name bcci.com. However the BCCI, Modi said, did not want to buy that domain. "Then they wanted [to] use bcci.tv, which they are using. I pay for the servers. I am not taking their money.
"I registered many, many websites under my names. I paid for them, I ran them." He pointed out that he had been in the business of buying and owning domain names well before he came to the BCCI. In 1997, he had bought the domain name Indian Cricket League, which was eventually used by the unsanctioned T20 league owned and operated by the Zee Group.
Modi said the BCCI has since approached him to buy the IPL website (www.iplt20.com) off him, but he refused to sell. "They can't force me to sell my website."
Following the removal of Modi in 2013, the BCCI had approached the Bombay High Court to reclaim the domains while accusing Modi of breach of trust. The court said that pending a final decision, all the payments for the various domain accounts should be put on auto-renewal on a credit card owned by Modi.
According to the BCCI official it was likely that Modi had changed the credit card and hence the payment was rejected. By late Sunday the website was functioning once again, although users continued to face issues outside of India.
The BCCI official said that as soon as a red flag was raised late on Saturday, it chased Modi, who assured it that the payment would be done. The board official also said without the court taking a final decision, the BCCI was helpless if any such issue flared up in future. "The court has said that till a final order is given on the ownership [of the BCCI domain names] Lalit Modi will need to provide for the services of the websites," the official said. "So the onus to renew is on them [Modi]."
Modi said this shutdown was merely a case of a clerical error: "It was not my payment. It was going through a sub-agent who had issues with his card."
*17.45GMT, February 5: The article was updated after Lalit Modi responded to ESPNcricinfo's queries