SOMERSET travel to face Warwickshire at Edgbaston on Tuesday with their First Division status in the Specsavers County Championship hanging by a thread.
The 179-run defeat by leaders Essex at Chelmsford during the week means there are just four games left to close a 23- point gap on sixth-placed Yorkshire.
More worrying still is the fact that Somerset’s batting line-up continues to under perform and even the attitude of the players came in for criticism from director of cricket Matthew Maynard after the Essex game.
He said: ‘The most worrying aspect of the performance was that we did not look like a side fighting for survival in the First Division. The players appeared resigned to relegation.’
Supporters will find that as mystifying as the failure of the batsmen in continually failing to provide enough runs to put pressure on opposing sides.
After ten Championship matches the statistics are damning. None of the current Somerset players have yet reached 500 runs for the season and the highest average among the specialist batsmen is 27.
There has been only one half-century opening partnership and only four centuries, apart from the two made by Dean Elgar during his stint as overseas signing.
The shortage of runs is particularly inexplicable given the talent and experience of some of the players.
Since scoring 106 and 46 not out against Warwickshire at Taunton in the third game of the campaign, Marcus Trescothick has produced a top score of 34 in 13 innings, which have seen him average 11.
Steve Davies gave a reminder of his ability by hit- ting 142 against his former club Surrey at Taunton. But in his other 17 Championship innings he has accumulated only 303 runs at an average of 20.
James Hildreth, in his benefit year, has registered just one hundred and one half-century, the latter coming in the last game against Essex. Frustratingly, he has been dismissed nine times between 22 and 43.
Skipper Tom Abell is averaging just 19.8 in 17 Championship innings. His problem has been getting starts, with 11 single-figure scores, including six ducks.
Peter Trego lost his place in the four-day side after averaging 20.5 in eight innings at the start of the season, but now looks in line for a recall against Warwickshire, having made a strong finish to the NatWest T20 Blast.
The lack of form among his senior players has forced Maynard to blood promising youngsters Eddie Byrom and Tim Rouse at a pressure time.
Byrom, in particular, has responded well, with three scores of over 40 in his first seven innings. Now, another of the club’s best prospects, George Bartlett, is likely to be in the squad for Edgbaston.
The 19-year-old Surrey-born right-hander has progressed through the age-group teams at Taunton and represented England under-19s this summer, scoring 56 and 73 in the second Youth Test against India in July.
Maynard admits to being baffled by the struggles of so many batsmen in the same season, particularly having added Chris Rogers to the coaching staff following his retirement as a player at the end of last season.
Said Maynard: ‘Never be- fore in my career as a player or coach have I been involved with a team in which all the batsmen have struggled for runs.
‘I don’t believe the issues are technical. It is more about fear of failure when out in the middle.
‘We are playing high-pressure cricket and at the moment, even our more experienced players are not handling it.
‘It stems from the top of the order. Even when Dean Elgar was here and playing well, we always seemed to lose a wicket early. It is the job of the openers to see off the new ball and it hasn’t been happening for us.’
Against Essex, Somerset were bowled out for 164 and 109, having put themselves in a good position by bowling out the hosts for 159 in their first innings.
Maynard said: ‘The attitude of the players had been first class in the previous two Championship match, so why it changed I am not sure.
‘Craig Overton had an excellent game and James Hildreth batted well on a tricky pitch. Overall to get beaten as we did, albeit by a good side was disappointing.’
Nothing less than victory over a Warwickshire side who already look doomed to playing in Division Two next summer will offer Somerset realistic hope of avoiding the drop.