Surrey 268 (Burns 122) and 274 for 7 (Burns 66, Stoneman 59) beat Worcestershire 336 (Whiteley 91, Fell 69, Barnard 63, T Curran 4-61) and 203 (Fell 89,Morkel 5-24) by three wickets
At ten to three on what had been an afternoon of pleasant autumn sunshine for the most part, Surrey duly completed a ninth consecutive Division One victory to secure the 2018 County Championship, their first since 2002.
A meaty pull from Morne Morkel to the boundary at backward square off the bowling of Dillon Pennington completed their pursuit of a target of 272 to defeat a Worcestershire side who are likely to be playing in Division Two again next season yet had given the new champions as close a run for their money as anyone. Indeed, Surrey had been behind in the match until the moment they hit the winning runs.
Worcestershire gave them a few scares. Having been seemingly cruising in the early afternoon, three down with just 62 more needed, Surrey suffered an uncomfortable stumble, losing four wickets for 50 runs, and for a moment the shock of the season actually appeared possible.
In and out went Ben Foakes, Will Jacks, Ollie Pope and Tom Curran, all of whom had doubtless been wondering, somewhere behind their professional focus, if the distinction of hitting the winning runs would fall to them.
Rikki Clarke, looking to cap a marvellous career by making himself part of his home county’s history for a second time, went close, but in the event Morkel was as deserving of anyone of earning the slaps on the back. His 50 wickets have been the backbone of the title charge.
As has been the case so many times, though, among the key figures was the captain, Rory Burns, who has taken on dual responsibility of captaincy and opening batsman with no interruption at all to the consistency he has established as a run accumulator over the last six seasons, during which time he has averaged more than 1100 first-class runs per year.
The title is the culmination of a rebuilding and refocusing process that began when Chris Adams was relieved of his duties as team director in June 2013. Alec Stewart, appointed director of cricket the following winter, outlined his vision of a team built around homegrown talent – “six or seven in every team we send out” – and has delivered precisely that.
If Clarke – who made his first-class debut as a 20-year-old in the 2002 title-winning team – is included, the Surrey XI in this match does indeed include seven of their own. Only Morkel, Dean Elgar, Ben Foakes and Mark Stoneman having come in from outside.
Clarke, a title-winner with Warwickshire on this ground in 2012, is 37 a couple of weeks from now, in the twilight of his career, but this is a young team, too. Pope, Sam Curran and Amar Virdi are 20-year-olds, Will Jacks just 19 and Tom Curran only 23. Although international call-ups will need to be accommodated – and Burns, surely, must be on the brink now – it could be a team to dominate the Championship for some years, as other Surrey sides have done over their history.
They have been streets ahead of the rest this year, that’s for sure. Five of their 10 wins have been by an innings, another by 10 wickets, another by 139 runs.
After his first-innings 122, Burns added 66, most of them in a first-wicket partnership of 111 with Stoneman, building on 70 overnight. He threw his head back in frustration when he lost his wicket, bowled behind his legs by pace prospect Pennington as he looked to work the ball, something he normally does so efficiently. But the platform was built.
Stoneman had gone a few minutes earlier, bowled by Wayne Parnell off an inside edge, so there was still work to do when Burns wandered back, but with the wicket now pretty flat and plenty of Surrey batting to come you felt it was only a matter of time before the job was done.
Worcestershire, desperate for points and determined not to roll over, fought until the last.
Surrey were 172 for 3 at lunch, needing exactly 100, after which Pope and Foakes, the latter feeling much better after a ropey few days with a bug, looked to have the measure of what was needed, their boundaries greeted with enthusiastic shouts from the pockets of Surrey supporters. But then Foakes top-edged a pull against Parnell, Ross Whiteley taking a good catch running away towards the boundary at backward square leg and the outcome suddenly felt a little less assured.
Hopes grew for the home side, bottom of the table, on the brink of a sixth relegation since the Championship went to two divisions. They had pushed Surrey hard here, drawing compliments from their opponents.
Jacks then drove Ed Barnard straight to extra cover and Pope, who had batted so assertively in both innings, was cleaned out by Pennington, the ball keeping low. Whiteley, now at slip, held another fine match after Tom Curran gloved one to give Pennington his third wicket.
Sadly for Worcestershire, who are 30 points below the cut-off now and therefore need to beat Hampshire next week and Yorkshire at home in their last fixture to have any chance of survival, and to the delight of the visiting balcony, Clarke and 33-year-old Morkel brought all their combined experience to bear to ensure there were no further alarms and the champagne corks began to pop moments later.