If Surrey do go on to claim the Specsavers County Championship title, their first win since 2002, they will surely look back at this as the defining moment of their success. By the end of a wonderful, absorbing match, they had dispatched of Lancashire by a meagre six runs.
When the visitors slumped to 209 for eight, needing a further 62 to win, hope looked lost for the Red Rose. It took a stand of 47 between the unlikely duo of Tom Bailey and Graham Onions to bring The Kia Oval to silence. No one dared shift their attention from the action.
As Onions effortlessly heaved Morne Morkel over mid on for six, they would have started to believe from Blackpool to Barnoldswick and everywhere in between. He and Bailey put on 38 before the interval and nine more after it to reduce the target to just 15.
The new pink ball, which had been taken by Sam Curran at the start of the second session and pummelled into advertising boards first up, proved decisive. Morkel’s third delivery with it sliced through Onions’ defences and pegged back off stump, leaving Matt Parkinson last man in.
A moment of brilliance sealed a famous win. Parkinson found the full face of the bat against Morkel. But Will Jacks, at forward short leg, stuck a right mitt at the ball. It had no right to stick in his hand. But it stuck.
The catch unleashed a roar from a spread crowd of just over 1,000, and a mirror image of celebration: half of Surrey’s fielders ran to the legside, the other half to the offside.
It leaves Surrey picking up 20 points to Lancashire’s four, with the hosts taking their lead at the top of Division One to 32 points. The visitors now find themselves six points adrift at the foot of the table.
“We’re a really happy bunch of blokes up there,” Surrey captain Rory Burns said afterwards. “We didn’t bat that well [first innings]. But to get ourselves back into the game in the third innings with the biggest score of the game gave us a chance to bowl towards that target.
“It was a nerve-wracking game towards the end there but really glad to come out the right side of it. [Somerset] are winning and if we slip up that gap’s going to close, so glad to keep ourselves out in front.”
The situation at the start of the afternoon had been clear: take five wickets before Lancashire score the 94 more runs they needed for victory. The plan, from all of Surrey’s bowlers, was clear too.
Amar Virdi bowled at the stumps from around the wicket with a slip and two close catchers in front of the bat, occasionally sacrificing silly point for leg slip. The two seamers, Rikki Clarke and Morkel, hung the ball outside off and awaited an edge.
It took a little over 40 minutes for the plan to work. Josh Bohannon and Steven Croft had battled brilliantly on the third evening to ensure Lancashire were just five down coming into the final day, and reduced the deficit to 68.
But there’s a reason Surrey signed a man with 544 international wickets. Clarke bowled four threatening but wicketless overs before Morkel powered in to continue the charge. With his seventh delivery, Croft poked his bat at one and found an outside edge behind.
Bohannon fell in the South African’s next over, attempting a drive and finding the Surrey captain, Rory Burns, at a close-catching second slip. In the space of seven minutes and nine Morkel deliveries, Lancashire had lost any control they might have had.
Joe Mennie survived 24 balls for just one, and never looked comfortable. He was out to a peach from Morkel; it leapt from back of a length and the Australian did well to feather it through to Ben Foakes. But then came Onions, and the breathtaking drama. What an advert for County Championship cricket.