Surrey became county champions for the 20th time, along with one shared title, when their captain Rory Burns pulled a long-hop to the Harleyford Road boundary. They went through their season unbeaten, whereas their closest rivals Hampshire – playing on more sporting pitches at Southampton – lost three matches.
As in 2018, the last time Surrey won this title, at New Road in Worcester, there was no trophy on hand to present, such is the inability of English cricket to seize the moment. But the Victorian pavilion, nodding in the afternoon sunshine, was almost full and a crowd of several thousand was present to applaud, along with the ghosts of their old masters, from Sir Jack Hobbs to Alec Bedser.
Three key strengths
Rory Burns's captaincy
It was a misfortune that he was not in possession of the England opener’s position when Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took over: he, not Alex Lees, might have imitated Matthew Hayden as a power-packed left-hander, and he looked the part here when running down the pitch against pace, and reverse-sweeping spin, to finish with 30 not out off 16 balls.
But “Burnsy”, as the Oval crowd calls him, has made the most of it, by leading Surrey to the championship for a second time, in addition to facing the most balls (1563) and averaging 40. Surrey have played neither of their two specialist spinners – Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty – in the championship all season, relying on 17 wickets from the off-spin of Will Jacks, but Burns conjured a couple of key wickets in the Yorkshire game out of Cameron Steel’s erratic leg-spin: the second, in the first over of day three, undermined Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Yorkshire’s resistance.
The financial clout to buy in pace bowlers from other counties and countries.
Kemar Roach, the West Indies spearhead, dedicated himself to dismissing Yorkshire’s key overnight batsman Adam Lyth, and when he did so – Lyth caught at third slip off one that swung away – Roach went down on his knees to celebrate. He was injured in early season but returned, as fit as ever, and gives Surrey’s attack an international cutting edge from the start.
Surrey’s other opening bowler Dan Worrall was brought in from Gloucestershire, where he had been fourth seamer, and given the new ball, a promotion which has brought an extra yard of pace out of him. His dismissal of Finlay Bean in Yorkshire’s second innings was a classic ball, swinging in from round the wicket, then seaming in still further, to clip the bails of Yorkshire’s left-handed opener. And the durable Australia A seamer happens to have a British passport.
Jamie Overton, imported from Somerset, had a lean season before feeling at home and winning his first England cap. He gives Surrey that extra pace, and bounce, as exemplified by a snorter to get George Hill caught at second slip in Yorkshire’s second innings. If only one per cent of balls in the championship exceed 87mph, as the High Performance review states, Overton supplies Surrey’s ration, and big hitting.
Jordan Clark, a tough all-rounder, as Cumbrians tend to be, signed from Lancashire, and capped on day three. As close to being a like-for-like replacement for Rikki Clarke as could be – as close as they are to having the same surname. Besides being a hit-the-bat fourth seamer, he makes rugged runs: his half-century in partnership with Ollie Pope turned the Yorkshire game in their favour. Averaged 51 with the bat and took 30 wickets.
Ollie Pope and batting depth
Pope purred to 700 runs at an average of 70, but he was not alone in supplying big runs quickly, effectively at four per over. Ben Foakes – old-fashioned orthodoxy with the bat, and the best of keepers – averaged 73, while Sam Curran averaged 75 in his half-dozen innings.
Amazingly Surrey had 16 players averaging more than 30 with the bat, which ensured they made over 300 in every first innings and were never bowled out twice. But perhaps the most influential batsman was Hashim Amla from South Africa. His stats have not quite matched those of Kumar Sangakkara but he has been the bulwark that everyone else has batted round. And, given these two master-batsmen from overseas, all of Surrey’s young batsmen, from Pope to Jamie Smith, have grown up being able to observe the best practices in red-ball batting.