<
>

Barker fight highlights Warwickshire's plight

Somerset 282 (Abell 82, Singh 5-72, Patel 4-90) and 75 for 2 lead Warwickshire 146 (Barker 52, Leach 5-50, C Overton 4-33) by 211 runs

It says a lot about why Warwickshire are in their present predicament that after Jonathan Trott (804 Championship runs) their next most successful batsman is Keith Barker, their 30-year-old opening bowler.

Granted, Barker is more technically proficient with bat in hand than most in his trade. Accomplished enough to be regarded as an allrounder, Barker has averaged around 500 runs and 50 wickets every year since he became established in the Warwickshire side and his contribution this year has been in line with that, although he is a little behind on wickets.

He went to 536 runs with his half-century here, his sixth of the season. Yet he is the only Warwickshire player, other than Trott, to get even halfway towards a thousand. Ian Bell has managed just 388 in Division One, fewer than wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose and offspinner Jeetan Patel.

Barker, in fact, has passed 50 as many times as Trott - and this was a particularly worthy effort in the circumstances, following the departures of Trott, Bell and Ambrose in consecutive overs against Jack Leach's left-arm spin.

The dismissal of that once prized trio left Warwickshire 40 for 5 in reply to Somerset's increasingly formidable-looking 282. But Barker shared partnerships of 53 with young Matthew Lamb and 49 with Chris Wright, which were enough to ensure that his side avoided the follow-on, even though they may not dodge defeat. He had one significant slice of luck on 33, when Steven Davies failed to pull off a routine stumping, but that apart he dealt with Leach and Dom Bess better than anyone on this pitch of extravagant turn.

Indeed, it was Barker's resistance that persuaded captain Tom Abell to give Craig Overton a second spell he may have thought would not be required. It was Overton who dismissed Barker in the end, before ripping out Wright's middle stump. He went off with figures of 4 for 33, having earlier removed both openers to catches in the slips in a new-ball spell that was comfortably the most impressive contribution among the seamers on both sides.

Barker, though, was in some pain at that stage, having been moving gingerly for an over or so, periodically stopping to flex his back. He did not emerge when Somerset began their second innings, although happily a rubdown was all that was required.

Bell, facing the possibility now of completing an English summer without a century for the first time in 15 years, perished for 14 on this occasion, although to be fair to him it was to a ball that would have done for most batsmen, spinning sharply from well outside leg stump. Bell prodded at it and Marcus Trescothick, standing well forward and almost square at second slip, took a good catch.

No such excuses could be forwarded in defence of Trott, who drove to a precisely placed short extra cover, or Ambrose, who carved straight to backward point. Lamb succumbed to a moment of extravagance, too, in the end, although he had at least been vigilant for an hour or so.

Bess, who possibly deserved more for his 17 overs, spun one past Patel's bat to pick up his solitary wicket and Leach made Sunny Singh his fifth victim, Davies taking the chance to atone for his earlier error.

Warwickshire have been short of much to be positive about in this match. There is a sense that relegation will be not so much likely as inevitable should they lose - and it is difficult to imagine that they will not from this position.

They can at least enthuse to a small degree about Singh, their tall Indian-born left-arm spinner. Somerset, already in a position of strength after Davies and Abell had put on 85 for the fifth wicket, lost their last six wickets for 66, shared equally between Patel and his 21-year-old apprentice.

Singh, the first professional cricketer to emerge from the Cricket Foundation's Chance to Shine scheme, finished with 5 for 72. He had the luxury of a pitch more helpful than most he will come across and the added benefit of being an unknown quantity at this level, yet two five-wicket hauls in his first five first-class matches bodes well.

A lack of emerging talent has been as much a factor as the rising age profile of their established players in Warwickshire's demise. Perhaps Singh is one to buck the trend.

Ryan Sidebottom removed the two rookies in the Somerset top order when he dismissed Eddie Byrom and George Bartlett with consecutive balls but Trescothick and James Hildreth ended the day looking ominously well set.