As Rory Burns swatted a part-time lollipop from Yorkshire’s Jonny Tattersall to the rope, the Surrey captain was, briefly, the only person inside the Micky Stewart Oval who didn’t realise he had just secured a 21st County Championship title for the club.
“Maths is not my strong point,” Burns joked afterwards, the captain otherwise basking in the afterglow of a crushing 10-wicket victory that, with heel-nippers Hampshire having already lost to Kent, meant the trophy was again Surrey’s with a round to spare.
This was probably the only miscalculation all summer from Burns, who, after being dropped in the aftermath of England’s Ashes misery last winter, dusted himself down commendably and masterminded a second title for his boyhood club in the space of five years. Gareth Batty, the head coach, described his captain’s return as “gold”.
Much like their last triumph in 2018, Surrey have flexed their collective muscle, a band of 22 players delivering an impressive eight wins that could yet become nine at Old Trafford next week. The trophy will be presented to Burns after that match – the Sky cameras are expected to be present – and, despite Hampshire’s fine summer, few can quibble about its return to the Oval’s well-filled cabinet.
Burns and Ryan Patel, whose immediate bear hug out in the middle had set his opening partner straight, were clearly in a rush to start the celebrations. Set a mere 55 runs to win after Yorkshire were bowled out for 208 in their second innings, following on, the pair positively vaporised the target in the space of six overs.
News of Hampshire’s demise had already come through the public address system during the innings break and once Burns had raided 16 runs from the opening over, not even the most pessimistic member of a 3,000-strong crowd could fear the worst. Even the pigeons on the outfield appeared to be bobbing along in appreciation.
It was a victory that rather summed up Surrey’s season, built on a standout performance with the bat – in this instance Ollie Pope, returning from England duty, to peel off a princely 136 in their 333 all out – and followed by a collective effort with the ball, twice, as Tom Lawes, Kemar Roach, Jordan Clark and Dan Worrall swarmed.
Batty singled out Worrall as “the best signing that I’ve seen in county cricket, ever” which, with 39 victims to his name so far, and at a club that has seen the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Morne Morkel in recent times, might sound like hyperbole. But this chiefly reflected the Australian’s season-long availability and what Burns described as an unflinching response whenever asked to deliver the tough overs.
There will doubtless be some chuntering about the richest county once again prevailing but in a cricketing sense, they continue to do so much right.
Granted the likes of Roach and Hashim Amla have augmented things through their international experience but Surrey have also fielded 10 homegrown players this season, accounting for 12 of the 16 centuries that have been scored along the way.
If there was one surprise it was the absence of a frontline spinner all season, not least with an old twirler like Batty in charge. Instead they turned to Will Jacks who, as well as cracking eight sixes in an vital unbeaten 150 against Essex earlier in the season, chipped in with 17 wickets. Cameron Steel was the other part timer, starting the victory charge on the third morning here when bowling Tom Kohler-Cadmore with a googly.
Jacks is one of three first-team players with England’s Twenty20 squad in Pakistan (along with Sam Curran and Reece Topley) and there is talk he may get a call-up for the Tests in December too. If so it would be to perform a role similar to Moeen Ali in the recent past, offering potential game-changing runs down the order and some big spinning off-breaks as a second string.
Both Burns and Batty would be delighted to see another fly the nest, the pair stressing the need for counties to produce England players as their priority. That said, on the day the High Performance Review led by Andrew Strauss published its recommendations, both were reluctant to endorse a six-team Division One from 2024.
“We don’t want to miss any players by playing less and less,” said Batty. “A lot of Aussies and overseas players want to come here and play cricket because they don’t get as much [back home]. I just hope we’re doing it for the greater good of the game – not to keep celebrity cricket alive.”
There is little doubt which competition Batty was referring to here, with folks at Surrey still needing to be convinced about the value of the Hundred. The future may be uncertain – not least for Yorkshire, still not assured of their safety – but at the Oval they know which domestic trophy sits above all others.