This game can be so cruel.
With a successful chase of 272 that brought a three-wicket win against hosts Worcestershire, Surrey ended a 16-year wait to claim their 19th County Championship title on 13 September.
The last time Surrey laid hands on English cricket’s most prestigious trophy was under Adam Hollioake in 2002, which was their third title in four years.
Surrey’s clinical 2018 season saw them win ten of their 14 matches and lose only once – a one-wicket defeat to Essex in their last outing in which they made an astonishing comeback after trailing by 410 runs on the first innings. Surrey’s dominance was highlighted by the fact that they finished a good 46 points and three wins clear of second-placed Somerset.
The game that decided the title could have gone either way. But, not for the first time, Surrey prevailed in the key moments to emerge victorious at the picturesque County Ground at New Road. Captain Rory Burns was again in the thick of things, top-scoring in both innings to play a pivotal role in the narrow win.
Burns scored 122, his fourth century of the season, to help Surrey overcome a woeful start of 4/2 and take their first-innings total to 268 in reply to Worcestershire’s 336. He set the tone for the chase in the second innings with an equally crucial 66, while adding 111 for the first wicket with Mark Stoneman.
Burns ended as the highest run-getter of the season with 1359 runs at 64.71, the fifth year in a row that he crossed the 1000-run mark. The 28-year-old left-handed opener is set to debut for England on the forthcoming Sri Lankan tour. Indeed his inclusion in the starting 11 ought to be a no-brainer, what with the retirement of Alastair Cook and the prolonged uncertainty of England’s opening partnership.
Having taken over the captaincy from Gareth Batty during the last season, Burns has proved that besides being a batsman of unquestionable talent, he also possesses the maturity required of an effective leader. He was not the only Surrey batsman to make hay this season. Ollie Pope, aged 20, accumulated 986 runs at 70.42 and was rewarded with his England cap during the Test series against India.
On the bowling front, South African speedster Morne Morkel enjoyed a remarkable season, capturing 59 wickets at 14.32 apiece. He took 5/24 in the second innings at New Road and later also hit the four that sealed the championship win. Not too far behind on the bowling chart was the experienced all-rounder Rikki Clarke, who was the non-striker when Morkel struck the winning runs.
Clarke returned to Surrey after ten seasons with Warwickshire, and his return of 47 wickets at 21.53 shows that it was a good decision to re-sign him. Curran brothers Sam – the 20-year-old star of the Pataudi Trophy – and Tom made a strong impact as well, taking 25 wickets at 24.32 and 19 wickets at 16.42 respectively.
The promise shown by the Currans and Pope, together with Burns’s admirable consistency, are the results of Surrey’s faith in youth. Under the able guidance of former England veteran Alec Stewart, who is the county’s director of cricket, Surrey have invested heavily in grooming young talent in the past few years. The championship win is a deserving fruit of their efforts.
Also, the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara have had stints with Surrey in recent years, much to the benefit of the emerging players. Another promising youngster is the 20-year-old off-spinner Amar Virdi, who took 39 wickets at 30.35 in the season gone by. Virdi has shown that he has the wherewithal to become an apt replacement for the long-serving Batty.
Batty, who has been a great servant for Surrey over the years, did not play a single game this season, which is not only a testimony to the fact that the management sees a bright future for Virdi but also an indicator of the team’s depth and quality. There is no reason why Surrey cannot replicate this success and become the hardest team to beat on the county circuit in the near future.
The championship win augurs well not just for the future of Surrey but also for that of England. Burns can be banked upon to make the most of his international career, and his hunger for runs can provide welcome stability to the top order. Sam Curran’s all-round prowess can only get better with time, while Pope seems to have what it takes to grow into a middle-order fulcrum in the years to come.