Once the Australians get their sticky paws on the Ashes trophy (mythical or otherwise) it is the devil's own job to prise them loose.

History shows that England have had 16 attempts to regain the Ashes in this country - and have only succeeded four times.

This summer, they try again but with the added handicap of the England & Wales Cricket Board seemingly doing its best to help Australia; both by planning a ridiculous itinerary, together with its own equally ludicrous set of registration rules which allow wearers of the Baggy Green to familiarise themselves with English conditions.

History first. The four successful captains who won back the Ashes in 1926, 1953, 1977 and 1985 were Arthur Carr, Len Hutton, Mike Brearley and David Gower. Forget the last two in 1977 and 1985, because the victories came about when Australian cricket was split because of Kerry Packer's World Series and later "rebel" teams going to South Africa.

The campaigns in 1926 and 1953 were played under conditions so unfamiliar to the tourists that many of them did not succeed until their second or even third tour of this country.

Forget Don Bradman, because he was an exception to every rule-of-thumb theory in history. Many were sunk without trace under seaming conditions, and even Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson were toothless in 1953 and 1961.

Not so this bunch, who have been glad-handed a huge bonus by those wretched ECB regulations which give open house, to Australian cricketers in particular, to hone their techniques in county cricket. Put simply, the 18 counties have put pot-hunting ahead of national interests, as this simple question proves.

What do Adam Gilchrist and Jason Gillespie uniquely have in common among the likely starting Aussie team in the first Test at Lord's in 16 weeks' time.

Answer: they are the only two who have not had experience in county cricket, varying from the passing acquaintanceship of Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn to the more lengthy visits of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Michael Clarke, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and, especially Mike Kaprowicz.

That little lot have scored over 15,000 championship runs (well over 20,000 if Darren Lehman makes the trip) and have nipped out 500 wickets.

The all-conquering West Indies sides of the 1970 and 1980s were packed with cricketers who rounded off their education in county cricket - such as Joel Garner, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharran, Larry Gomes, Malcolm Marshall and a host of other fast bowlers.

Part of the reason for their dramatic decline is that none of their best players play county cricket because of expanding Test demands in our summer. That is why the counties turned to Australia and, even worse, allowed broken-time usage of their players.

Even more inexcusable is the tatty, television-driven itinerary which creates another piece of unwanted history. Never before has an Ashes series started as late as July 21.

Never before has a five-match series been condensed into 53 days and never has the final Test at the Oval ended as late as September 12.

John Carr, the ECB's director of cricket operations told your correspondent in an interview in South Africa: "The running order of the summer is not ideal, but there are commercial considerations we have to take into account."

Further probings revealed, albeit reluctantly, that Sky Television insist that all oneday cricket, for which they have exclusive rights, must be completed before the start of the football season. To sideline an Ashes series this way is nothing more than a further trampling over history.

It is no argument to say that the five Tests are sold out. What about newspaper coverage?

In the few weeks in June and July, the so-called close season for football, Test matches would get considerably greater column inches than when the launch of the new football season [on August 13] will bring a takeover of the back page, leaving the reader to find his shortened reports elsewhere.

England are disadvantaged still further because their only chance of winning is to keep Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and the other bowlers fit enough to play in all five Tests.

If Harmison is in anything other than top form, an even bigger load will fall on Flintoff but, as South Africa showed all too clearly, even his massive frame can stand only so much.

It is not the same for both sides, because the Aussies have such a great depth in pace that Brett Lee has not played a Test match for 12 months.

No wonder that his captain is all in favour of him playing a few weeks of county cricket in May and June "so that he can rock up for the tour in top form."

Lee will cost a fortune, but don't worry. He won't be short of takers, even though all the counties profess to have as their priority the success of the national team.

Baloney. The 18 counties have never been more selfish. How else could they sanction a summer calendar which starts at Lord's this week with the MCC playing champions Warwickshire, but no Ashes Test for 15 weeks? Filling the huge gap are a couple of mismatch Tests against Bangladesh, followed by nine one-day internationals, six of which also concern Bangladesh.

The final of the triangular tournament at Lord's is on July 2. Not even then can the public watch an Ashes Test. Oh, no. Sky insists that there are another three one-dayers between England and Australia before, finally, the Ashes summer starts on July 21. The counties should be ashamed of themselves and that includes those with Test match grounds. The six - or seven, including Riverside - are well represented on the important ECB committees, yet they have rolled over and accepted the extra money, never mind the harm it does to the game.

And that includes the committee which purports to act only in the interests of the England team - the International Team Management Group. Principle v Pocket? There is only one winner. And the biggest losers will be the players and the public.