THIS is not a time to panic for Somerset.

In the wake of their first defeat of the County Championship season at Essex, Somerset head coach Jason Kerr has said "now is not the time for wholesale changes", while Craig Overton has written in his County Gazette column that "one defeat does not make us a bad team overnight."

All of this is true. Somerset remain top of Division One with a 13-point lead at the halfway stage and there has been far more good than bad about their cricket this season.

There are, however, some concerns about their batting.

Somerset's average runs per wicket - 23.02 - is lower than any other Division One county and their highest opening partnership in the Championship this season is 30.

So, with that in mind, who should open against Hampshire on Sunday? Here are the options...

Azhar Ali

The record of the man in possession - 35 First Class centuries, a Test average of 43 - suggests he will come good if persisted with.

But it cannot be denied that Azhar has struggled against the red ball this season, with his best form seen in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Bridgwater Mercury:

He has passed 50 just once in 10 Championship innings and averages 14.68.

Do Somerset back his experience or allow him, like Marcus Trescothick, to rediscover his best form away from the first team spotlight?

Tom Abell

The skipper is no stranger to opening the batting - it is where he started his Somerset career at the age of 20 - and he has taken on the mantle once more following the dropping of Trescothick.

Bridgwater Mercury:

It has been a mixed bag in the role so far, with scores of 3, 15*, 36 and 0, and to burden Abell with opening as well as the captaincy perhaps limits his effectiveness as a batsman.

The best of Abell against the red ball in recent seasons has been in the middle order - should Somerset stick or twist?

Tom Banton

A star in the opening berth during Somerset's victorious One-Day Cup campaign, Banton has slotted in at four since his introduction to the Championship team this season.

He opened in two four-day matches last year and is certainly a contender to do so again should Somerset opt for a re-shuffle.

Bridgwater Mercury:

Whether that would stifle Banton's natural positive style is cause for debate, but 63 from 119 balls having entered the fray at 5-2 against Surrey at Guildford showed an ability to adapt.

Banton has a preference for the middle order in red-ball cricket but is happy to bat wherever the team feel they need him - could that now be at the top of the order?

Marcus Trescothick

Upon announcing his planned retirement, Somerset's stalwart reiterated his desire to force his way back into first team contention between now and when he hangs up his bat at the end of the season.

Bridgwater Mercury:

Unfortunately for those (and there are plenty) who would love nothing more than seeing Trescothick back at his imperious best, his recent run of scores in the Second XI - 53, 0, 4, 1, 18 - have done little to advance his case for a recall.

But a lack of out and out openers in the Somerset side could yet leave the door ajar - and who knows, a couple of those crunching cover drives early on could soon have him back in nick...

Ben Green

Identified as one of those "showing signs" within the current Second XI by head coach Jason Kerr, Green battled hard for an unbeaten 101 from 206 balls (out of 185-7) against a strong Middlesex seconds attack including Toby Roland-Jones last week.

Like Banton, the Exeter-born all-rounder also opened in two Championship matches on some challenging pitches in 2018.

Bridgwater Mercury:

Though an innings of 16 may not seem remarkable in isolation, it came during that remarkable tie against Lancashire in Taunton when Somerset failed to chase 78 and came when many of his teammates lacked Green's application.

A bowling option too, Green could yet come into consideration.

Eddie Byrom

The 20-year-old has shown a capability to see off the new ball during his Somerset career so far but to an extent where he often, in his own words, "went into his shell" and failed to convert starts into meaningful scores.

Bridgwater Mercury:

His patience at the crease is a virtue, particularly in the modern era, and if Somerset are looking for someone to bat time they could do a lot worse than drafting in Byrom.

However, Somerset were reluctant going into this season to expose their youngsters at the top of the order and Byrom's only First Class century for the county, against Cardiff MCCU in March, came from number six.

Dom Bess

The funky option - but one worth considering?

Bess is struggling to force his way into the Somerset team and, if they are to keep the England international for the long-term, he needs to be playing.

Bridgwater Mercury:

His best way of doing so at this moment in time appears to be by forcing his way into the top six - Somerset are not currently playing two spinners and Jack Leach is unlikely to make way - and the team is stacked with middle order batsmen, so the only vacancy is at the top.

There are some who insist Bess will become a better batsman than bowler as he develops and earlier this month he made an unbeaten 91 for Yorkshire against an Essex attack who tore through Somerset this week.

(All pics courtesy Alex Davidson/Alain Lockyer/SCCC)