Surrey’s 2018 Specsavers County Championship title victory — their first since 2002 — proved utterly emphatic. Their red-ball domination began in early May and they scarcely batted an eyelid at any other team.
They steamrolled Division One, beating each of the seven other counties at least once and at one stage stringing together nine consecutive wins. The ninth, at Worcestershire, clinched the trophy.
It will sting Surrey that they could not repeat the unbeaten record of Essex and Middlesex from the previous two years. They certainly didn’t give up that dream against 2017 champions Essex in the final week, suffering a one-wicket defeat.
Alec Stewart, the club’s director of cricket since 2014, said after the Worcester win that he wanted to create success long-term. He clearly has the resources to do that.
Surrey’s imports — specifically, Morne Morkel and his pace — were the catalyst to their title charge, but homegrown talent has played a huge part too. Many of that group still have their best years ahead of them.
If Rory Burns still has greater batting heights to reach then Surrey will make more additions to their trophy cabinet. Burns was out on his own as either division’s leading run-scorer (1359) in his first season as club captain, and earned a long-deserved England call-up to boot.
The skipper achieved the unenviable task of replacing Kumar Sangakkara’s runs. Burns was still over a century short of Sangakkara’s 2017 tally, but that mattered little when accompanied by Ollie Pope’s runs (986) and the bowlers regularly taking 20 wickets.
Burns has been with Surrey for two decades, having joined the club aged eight, and typifies the type of player that Academy Director Gareth Townsend has sought to develop in the past few years. Pope, Tom and Sam Curran, Amar Virdi and Ryan Patel are among those who have been under Townsend’s wing and who played a key role this season.
That combination of youth and experience proved too much for the rest of the county pack. They demolished Yorkshire, Hampshire, Somerset and Nottinghamshire (twice) by an innings in a terrifying show of strength. It is no wonder they now hold the pennant.
The two white-ball competitions were missing in Surrey’s crusade to command county cricket. In both, they fell just short in the group stage: a point and a better net run-rate was required in the Royal London One-Day Cup, with an additional victory needed for the Vitality Blast knockouts.
It will be particularly frustrating to have missed out in the Blast given the capabilities of Aaron Finch, who was the competition’s leading run-scorer until Laurie Evans’ 52 in the final. Finch played just nine matches, making it all the more remarkable.
But those disappointments were mere footnotes. The eruption of cheers that went up around Blackfinch New Road as Morkel hit the Championship winning runs said it all. In an age where administrators are looking to promote short-form, franchise cricket, and marginalise the four-day game, Surrey’s jubilation is a reminder to everyone how important the Championship is.
Winning it without going unbeaten means there is room to improve. This is a team who were only halted at the very last, and who are unlikely to be complacent next season. Surrey will want an era of success, and 2018 showed they have the players to do it.
SSCC: 1st, Division One
T20 Blast: Group Stage – 5th, South Group
RLODC: Group Stage – 5th, South Group
SSCC: Rory Burns, 1359 runs
Vitality Blast: Aaron Finch, 589 runs
RLODC: Ben Foakes, 279 runs
SSCC: Morne Morkel, 59 wickets
Vitality Blast: Rikki Clarke, 16 wickets – economy 8.34
RLODC: Rikki Clarke, 13 wickets
Player of the Season
Rory Burns had yet another exceptional season with the bat, passing 1,000 first-class runs for the fifth straight year and the same tally in the Championship for the fourth consecutive year. Only two players — Moeen Ali (76.60) and Ollie Pope (70.43) — to bat in at least five innings had a higher average than Burns’ 64.71. His captaincy was intelligent and mature in his first season as he led from the front. Morkel’s 59 wickets at 14.32 were vital too.
Such was his impressive start to the Championship season, there was suggestion from some Surrey supporters that Amar Virdi should have been picked for the Tests against Pakistan. That was premature, as were the same suggestions for him going to Sri Lanka rather than a Lions tour. But 39 wickets in his first Championship season proved an impressive return, especially with some of the scalps he took: Hashim Amla, Shivnarine Chanderpaul (twice), Cheteshwar Pujara, and England captain Joe Root.
Could have done better
Jason Roy certainly didn’t have a bad season. But he and Surrey will probably be disappointed that he scored just 163 runs in the Blast, 84 of those coming in the simple 222 run chase against Middlesex. That was the only time he reached a half-century and after a pair of ODI hundreds earlier in the summer, he’d have wanted more. His 128 against Essex in the final Championship match — batting at three, where England see potential in him in Tests — would have helped that hunger.
Need to work on
The biggest issue Surrey will have moving forward is losing players to England, with Ben Foakes and Virdi likely to join Burns, Pope, both Currans and Roy at international level before too long. If they can keep a similar level of performance even without a lot of those players, they’ll be in a good position for more silverware.
Surrey’s plans for 2019 are already in place. Jordan Clark has been brought in from Lancashire while Liam Plunkett is moving south from Yorkshire, with Mat Pillans going the other way. They will hope to get more red-ball cricket out of Plunkett than the White Rose: he hasn’t played a Championship match since last September.
It didn’t quite happen in white-ball cricket for Surrey this year, but that mattered not. The Championship title remains the pinnacle, and they cantered their way to it. That is cause enough to call this a superb season.