Middlesex captain Dawid Malan maintains the players, not the coaching staff, must shoulder the blame for their descent to the foot of the Specsavers County Championship table.
The Seaxes, who have never finished last since the launch of the competition in 1890, sank to bottom spot in Division Two this week despite recovering from a dismal start to secure a draw against Derbyshire.
Expectations had been far higher, particularly after the arrival of new head coach Stuart Law and assistant Nic Pothas over the winter – and Malan admits the team have fallen short.
“We can’t make excuses – we’ve played poor cricket,” said the 31-year-old batsman, whose career-best 199 underpinned the revival at Derby. “It’s as simple as that.
“Getting a new coach in, it was never going to be the case that we’re suddenly going to win all three trophies – that’s impossible. We’ve had the same players since 2017, when we got relegated, and we’ve gone backwards in that time.
“The coaches are working their socks off, giving us everything to help us develop and they really are making a massive difference behind the scenes.
“We as players aren’t doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re not playing to the standards we should do, that the coaches are expecting of us, that as captain I’m expecting from us.
“We have to build on this (the draw) and get better because you can’t really see us going backwards from here.”
Middlesex’s tendency to be slow out of the blocks in four-day games resurfaced at Derby as they put the home side in and dropped both openers Luis Reece and Billy Godleman, who went on to compile an opening stand of 167.
That set the tone as a ragged pace attack – with Tim Murtagh unavailable and Toby Roland-Jones and Steven Finn struggling for consistency after long-term injuries – was flayed to the tune of 557 for six declared.
“You have to be bowling top of off length and Murts does that better than anyone else around,” said Malan. “When you’ve got guys that are 6ft 5in to 6ft 8in, their natural length almost becomes a little bit short.
“It’s happened too often that we’ve put ourselves on the back foot and haven’t put two or three balls in the same area consistently – or, when we have, we’ve dropped catches.
“We’ve dropped 10 catches and had another two off no-balls in the last two games, so that’s 12 chances. That’s not acceptable for a team that thinks they’re good enough to get promotion.
“A couple of our bowlers are struggling a bit to find their rhythm, which is understandable when they’ve had long lay-offs. But when they do create opportunities, you want those taken.”
During the last two days, Middlesex did display one of the traits that characterised their title success of 2016 – determination to extricate themselves from sticky situations and at least avoid defeat.
Malan shared a 224-run partnership with John Simpson, who went on to notch his first century of the campaign as the visitors’ tail wagged vigorously.
“On wickets that are playing reasonably well, it needs one or two of us to get in and score big runs,” added the skipper.
“When we’re behind it, we’ll find ways of getting ourselves out of trouble. That’s what we’re trying to get to at Middlesex – instilling that fight.”