ICC chief Speed defies World Cup critics By N.Ananthanarayanan
Guyana Chronicle
April 9, 2007

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ST JOHN'S, Antigua (Reuters) - International Cricket Council (ICC) chief Malcolm Speed defended the governing body yesterday against widespread criticism over poor turnout, security measures and high ticket prices at the World Cup.

"We are at the halfway mark in terms of matches played, very hopeful we can finish the World Cup in the manner we would expect with some great cricket being played where every match counts one way or the other," Speed told reporters yesterday.

The event has been criticised by local fans and media for running for 47 days, featuring as many as 51 games and six associate teams.

Many have also complained about the absence of a Caribbean flavour due to the absence of crowds and conditions -- since lifted -- imposed for bringing in musical instruments into the ground.

"There is a Caribbean flavour about this match," Speed said in response to the criticism, referring to champions Australia playing England in the Super Eight which he attended.

"There also needs to be a world sporting event flavour," he said. "We moved up a step from domestic bilateral cricket here, into the area of a major world sporting event."

However, organisers have been forced to give away free tickets to schoolchildren to ramp up attendance as thousands of Indian and Pakistani fans cancelled their trips after both teams were knocked out in the first round.

Local fans have also kept away, complaining they cannot afford tickets priced from US$25 onwards.

Speed said the tournament organisers and local officials were responsible for ticket-pricing.

"We expect each country will know its own economy, its own pricing."

Speed said ICC had shown flexibility by easing conditions to encourage fans to bring in musical instruments with the permission of local organisers.

He dismissed criticism of weak teams at the World Cup.

"We've been criticised for many years for including Bangladesh in the top table of world cricket," he said.

"What they've done in the last couple of weeks is they have justified their existence."

Bangladesh, ninth in the one-day rankings, shocked South Africa, the top-ranked one-day side, on Saturday after beating India in the first round to knock them out. Debutants Ireland qualified after their upset win eliminated Pakistan.

"Perhaps from a commercial perspective, there are some negatives here," he said referring to the exit of India and Pakistan.

The ICC would continue to back weaker teams, he said.

"Hopefully we will come out of this event with 11 or 12 teams who have put some substance into cricket in their country.

"After the next round it will be 13 or 14 and it will gradually move on until we have a very solid base for cricket around the world."

The seven-week World Cup culminates in the final in Barbados on April 28.