Surrey were made to work hard for their three-wicket victory at Worcestershire but by doing so claimed their 19th County Championship title and their first since 2002.
Having cruised to 111 without loss chasing 272, they fell to 157 for three before the ship was steadied by Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes, who added 53 to ease any concern.
But that anxiety would have returned among those flying Surrey flags on the Severn when both Foakes and Pope fell, with the aggressive Will Jacks caught in between the two dismissals. There was still 32 required with only four wickets in hand, and 12 when next man Tom Curran fended to first slip.
Memories of defeat at New Road four years and a day ago, chasing 217, would have rushed to the forefront of supporters’ memories. But it was the old head, Rikki Clarke, who provided the steady hand and helped see his boyhood club over the line.
Morne Morkel was the man to ultimately hit the winning runs, clipping a boundary off his hip, but Clarke’s experience at the end was just as crucial.
It was fitting that Pope, who was unfortunate to be bowled by one that kept low by Dillon Pennington, added a vital 49 before Clarke got Surrey to victory. This is the 20-year-old’s first full season in first-class cricket, just as it had been Clarke’s in 2002.
This was their ninth win in succession and their tenth of the season, the same number claimed 16 years ago. That year, the Championship was comprised of 16 matches, and Surrey still have two to play this campaign.
Surrey had resumed the final day needing another 202 more runs with all ten wickets in hand. They had Morkel on the third day to thank for such a reasonable target: his 11-over second spell brought about figures of five for 11 as Worcestershire lost their last eight wickets for 49 runs.
— Surrey Cricket (@surreycricket) September 13, 2018
Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman both reached half-centuries to take Surrey to 111 without loss — their second three-figure opening stand this season — before Stoneman was bowled for 59 by Wayne Parnell, pushing the ball across him from around the wicket.
Burns, winning the Championship in his first season as captain, has been widely tipped as Alastair Cook’s successor for England and unfurled a leg glance — coincidentally Cook’s bread-and-butter — to pass 50. It’s the tenth time he’s done so this season.
Both Burns and his partner Dean Elgar raised their heads to the sky in disappointment when he was bowled round his legs on 66 by the exciting 19-year-old Pennington. When Elgar went to a beauty from Josh Tongue, leaving him from middle stump just enough to take his off stump, 115 was still required.
On paper, it should still have been easy but Worcestershire, despite sitting bottom of Division One and facing relegation in their first season back in the top tier, fought back admirably. They proved how close they are to being a good Division One side with the key difference, ultimately, the presence of Kolpak signing Morkel.
His final boundary four confirmed that 21 points would come Surrey’s way, with their 61-point advantage now unassailable with two games still to play.
For Worcestershire, however, their season is only just beginning – six points from this match leaves them 32 adrift of safety.