Essex 25 for 0 trail Somerset 203 (van der Merwe 60, Abell 45, Harmer 5-105, S Cook 4-26) by 178 runs

Andy Hurry has insisted Somerset can still win their first County Championship title despite a wash-out on the third day of their match against Essex.

Somerset need to defeat Essex if they are to leapfrog them to the title on the final day of the season. But with rain allowing just 72.4 overs over the first three days of the match and the forecast for Thursday not especially encouraging, their task is now close to impossible.

The pitch is likely to remain very helpful for spin bowlers and there will be a maximum of 96 overs available, but it is hard to see Somerset being able to take not only 20 wickets, but squeeze in a second innings of their own. Essex, as a consequence, are on the brink of claiming their second Championship title in three years.

Somerset supporters may bemoan their bad luck with the weather and even a seeming unwillingness to play on behalf of the umpires. In truth, however, they are a side that has lost three games - Essex have lost just one - have no batsman averaging even as much as 32 and who allowed Hampshire to recover twice (once from 88 for 7 and once from 103 for 8) to lose their previous match just as the title appeared to be in their grasp. Few can dispute that Essex will be deserving champions.

So while the frustration of a decent-sized crowd was understandable as they waited until 4.40pm for the announcement of an abandonment and a new bank of rain swept in every time it seemed a resumption was imminent, there was little the groundstaff or officials could do. After several hours of mopping and verti-draining, there was a danger that any further use of machinery on the relevant areas would result in something resembling a ploughed field. And the umpires felt that areas close to the wicket were unstable and therefore unsafe. It really has rained a great deal and, long after players and spectators had left, the groundstaff were still working on the outfield.

But while you could be forgiven for concluding that Hurry, Somerset's director of cricket, was attempting an impression of Monty Python's Black Knight - "Tis but a scratch" et al - in honour of John Cleese's presence at this game, it is worth remembering that he is a former Royal Marine. And they're probably not a breed terribly comfortable with accepting defeat.

"We've put too much on the line for too long a period to wave the white flag," Hurry said. "It's definitely not the end. There's belief in the dressing room and it's really important we bring that tomorrow.

"The challenge now becomes stiffer. But I think it's important we don't lose the courage, conviction and belief we've demonstrated throughout the whole season overnight. It's a funny old game. We've got to keep believing."

While Hurry's method for the final day - "get runs on the board and bowl them out" - sounded admirably straightforward, it ignored the pesky fact that Essex have only just started their first innings. But Somerset, runners-up in the Championship five times this century already, are now in a position where pretty much only a miracle can help them. Belief and positivity are just about the only weapons left to Somerset; they may as well use them.