FRESH doubts emerged last night over Zimbabwe's participation in the first Test cricket match to be staged in the North-East.

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) recently agreed to proceed with the summer tour to England, which includes Test matches played at Lord's and Durham's Riverside ground, at Chester-le-Street.

But the ZCU was last night reported to be becoming increasingly worried because the tour plans are still to be sanctioned by Zimbabwe's Sports and Recreation Commission.

The commission must grant clearance before the team can fly to England.

It is thought the commission may be stalling as a reciprocal measure after England refused to play in Zimbabwe, on safety grounds, during the recent World Cup.

Less than eight weeks before the match, Durham County Cricket Club's plans are well advanced.

Although an alternative, unnamed Test-playing country has been lined up to stand in should Zimbabwe fail to fulfil the fixtures, club chairman Bill Midgley hopes the tour arrangements will remain unhindered.

He said: "I think we're seeing a bit of posturing because, after all, we did mess them about in the winter.

"I'm not defending what England did in the World Cup, there's been enough said about that.

"We should have said months beforehand we weren't going to go. But let's put that behind us. Nothing is going to be gained from this childish attitude."

Mr Midgley said he hoped ratification of the tour would be made soon by the Zimbabwe authorities.

"If not there's a contingency in place, but I don't want that to happen. That would be bad for Zimbabwe."

Mr Midgley said the replacement opposition could be called on as late as the third week in May, allowing up to five weeks before a decision needs to be made.

Interest is mounting, with tickets already selling well for the Chester-le-Street Test, the second of the series, from June 5 to 9.

Tickets cost £25 a day for the opening four days for adults, and £10 a day for the first three days for children, or £5 on the Sunday.

They can be booked on 0191-387 5151.