Kent have defended the decision to sign Australian bowler Stuart Clark for the run-up to the Ashes series after criticism from English cricket's chief that the move may help their age-old rivals.
Kent announced on Tuesday they had signed the 33-year-old seamer until June as he recovers from the elbow injury which has kept him out of Australia's tour of South Africa.
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) managing director Hugh Morris said the county's move has provoked 'dismay' as England prepare their bid to wrest back the Ashes won by Australia in a 5-0 whitewash in the 2006-07 series, in which Clark took 26 wickets.
"It is difficult recruiting good quality overseas players with all the commitments around the world at the moment and good cricketers who will really do a good job for you are few and far between now," Kent chief executive Paul Millman said on Wednesday.
"So when the opportunity of Stuart came up we took it quickly, if we hadn't another county would have done there is absolutely no doubt about that."
Kent's decision followed Middlesex's signing of opener Phil Hughes, who has shone in the series win over South Africa.
Morris and England selector Geoff Miller condemned the signings.
"The decision of Kent to sign Stuart Clark so that he can continue his rehabilitation after injury to enable him to be fit for the Ashes series has been met with dismay throughout the game," Morris was widely quoted as saying in the British media.
"Of course, it is up to Kent which players they sign but it is an incredibly busy and important year for cricket in England and we wish to give the team every chance of regaining the Ashes."
Miller said: "Middlesex have already signed a batsman in Phil Hughes who has not had experience of English conditions before and now will have that for the Ashes -- I don't think that would happen the other way round."
But Millman said Kent are doing their part to support the success of English cricket.
"We've got four cricketers in line for English selection this summer," he said. "Four cricketers who we've nurtured and brought through for English cricket... so we are not stinting in our support for English cricket."
Millman said the club, which was relegated to division two of the county championship last season, has to balance its support for England with the success of Kent cricket.
"It is possible this summer that we might not see a lot of Amjad Khan [playing for Kent] and that's great for English cricket and great for Amjad but it leaves a bit of a gap for us and we've got to think about how we fill that gap," said Millman.
England play Australia in the first of five Ashes Tests in Cardiff on July 8.