How Surrey won the title: five factors behind County Championship canter

From the brilliance of Rory Burns and Morne Morkel to a solid backroom team, why Surrey stood out this season

A ruthless road to glory

Champion sides always gain momentum, a popular buzzword within dressing rooms far and wide, and run with it. Surrey did not make a racing start, winning their first match against Hampshire and drawing their next two against Lancashire and Worcestershire. But since then they have won nine on the bounce and counting, including an extraordinary five of those by an innings.

If Surrey win their last two matches, against Somerset at Taunton next week and Essex at the Oval, they will have won 12 times, a season’s record in county cricket since the Championship was split into two divisions in 2000 – also a Surrey title-winning year.

Star men

Rory Burns and Morne Morkel have been two of the three best players in either division – Kent’s Matt Henry with 67 wickets in Division Two being the other.

The captain and left-hander Burns, England’s new Test opener-elect, has scored nearly 300 runs more than anyone else. His tally of 1,241 from 12 matches, with four hundreds, has come at an average of 68.94. The former South Africa pace bowler Morkel has taken 50 wickets in eight games. Only five bowlers in Division One have reached the 50-wicket mark, and his average of 13.96 blows his rivals out of the water since making his debut in late May following a side injury.

Contributions from others

The veteran all-rounder Rikki Clarke, a homegrown hero and a Championship winner in his debut season in 2002, has been one of a host of notable performers, with 43 wickets and 443 runs, while the England trio of Sam Curran, Ben Foakes and Ollie Pope have enhanced their reputations, as has the fledgling offie Amar Virdi.

Pope has been the best of them with 802 runs, including a stupendous unbeaten 158 in the first innings of a three-day win over Yorkshire at the Oval in early May, under the watchful gaze of Joe Root, who was captaining the opposition that week.

Ollie Pope
Ollie Pope hits out during his stunning innings against Yorkshire Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

The team behind the team

While Surrey’s on-field recruitment has been smart, assembling a backroom staff oozing knowledge and experience has been a key contributor to their success.

Led by Alec Stewart and Michael Di Venuto, the director of cricket and head coach respectively, they have cherry-picked experienced heads such as Vikram Solanki, Chris Taylor, Ryan Sidebottom and Geoff Arnold as coaches and mentors to underpin the squad’s development.

Sidebottom, for example, was brought in as a bowling consultant for Championship cricket alone – the former England left-arm swing bowler won five Championship titles as a player for Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire between 2001 and 2015.

Fortress Oval

The Oval has not always been the happiest of hunting grounds for Surrey, a batsman-friendly venue not conducive to forcing victories. In the summers of 2016 and 2017 combined they won four times there – twice in each – whereas this summer they have won four times at HQ, added to once at Guildford’s Woodbridge Road.

Those Oval victories came against Hampshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire. The Lancashire win last month, under lights and with the pink ball, was the closest they have come to defeat this season. Defending a target of 271, they won by six runs thanks to a Morkel six-for.

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Graham Hardcastle

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