Surrey (268 and 274/7) beat Worcestershire (336 and 203) by three wickets
Surrey won their first County Championship since 2002 when they defeated a spirited Worcestershire side. It was shortly before the bells of Worcester Cathedral struck 3pm when Surrey edged home by three wickets to clinch the title with two rounds to go.
It would have been more appropriate, in these surroundings, if Dean Elgar had scored the winning runs, though the composer was never the dean. Instead, it was Morne Morkel, Surrey’s main match-winner this summer, who pulled the boundary to win this game and Championship.
Surrey had been the slumbering giants of English cricket, occasionally waking up for long enough to take out a cheque book and sign an established player from another county or country, but they have come good now, going through this season unbeaten so far as well as victorious.
Their riches – which begin with a membership of 11,000 and the revenue of an annual Test match – still allow them to sign stars like Morne Morkel, who produced a match-winning spell to overturn a first innings deficit of 68, but they are now nurturing fine young prospects of their own, most notably Ollie Pope and Sam Curran, while Rory Burns is the only man to have passed 1000 runs in either division and is the next in line to open for England.
But Surrey’s pursuit of 272 was far from straightforward because Worcestershire fought spiritedly, even though bottom of the first division, while in Dillon Pennington they have a fast – not simply pace, bowler – who could go up to another level, so smooth is action and sharp his speed.
Picking up at 70 without loss, Burns and Mark Stoneman took their overnight partnership to 111. Not a threatening cloud in the autumnal sky – until Surrey lost three quickish wickets, so they still needed 100 to win with seven wickets left, and their sky suddenly darkened.
Stoneman inside-edged a drive at Wayne Parnell, while Burns was unlucky in that he aimed to flick down leg side and the ball trickled on to his stumps. He had played and missed several times, not least when going down on one knee to cover-drive the new ball, but his composure was unruffled. More than any of Alastair Cook’s 12 opening partners post-Strauss, Burns appears to come closest to emulating the master’s temperament.
Burns, before his dismissal, continued to use his feet neatly to work the left-arm spin of Ben Twohig to leg – not quite the same threat as Ravi Ashwin, who was due to end the season at Worcester before his injury during India’s series. With two Championship games to go, Burns has 1241 runs at an average of 68 – an incontrovertible case to be selected for one or other England Test tour squad this winter.
As Elgar had been bowled half-forward in defence, battle lines were drawn shortly before lunch: Pope and Ben Foakes, recovered from illness, against Pennington and Josh Tongue, four fine young prospects, without a southern hemisphere passport between them. The one area where Surrey can improve is in producing a stable of pace bowlers like Worcestershire, rather than signing a South Africa Under-19 player like Conor McKerr.
Pressure on Pope increased when Foakes was bounced out by Parnell. Pope had still been reaching for the ball, as in his two Tests, but tightened up with the title to be won. Pope had also kept wicket excellently, when Foakes was ill, especially when taking Amar Virdi’s off-breaks which were wayward of line but lively when they spat out of the rough. If Pope is selected as a reserve batsman for the Test series in Sri Lanka, no need at all to take another keeper in addition to Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler.
Pennington, however, having been driven twice for four in one over, bounced back with the last ball which kept low and scuttled through Pope’s defence: a good replica of Morkel’s spell on the third afternoon. Pennington, a 19 year-old from Shrewsbury, and almost as tall as Morkel, was by now so fired up that he was bowling quicker than Morkel in this match.
But Rikki Clarke and Tom Curran, with 32 still to win the match and title, fired some shots before Pennington bounced out Curran. Still 12 to win, but Morkel – who has taken 50 Championship wickets this season at only 13.9 each – sealed the deal with Clarke.
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