It had felt inevitable for a number of weeks after an incredible unbeaten run, when in early September at Worcester, Surrey were finally crowned County Champions for the first time since 2002.
The success can be seen as a product of a number of factors and years of careful preparation, including the assembly of an expert coaching staff that included seasoned title winners such as Ryan Sidebottom and the acquisition of game changing overseas players such as Morne Morkel (59 wickets in 10 games). However, the title success also represents a vindication of Surrey’s efforts to produce academy products and build a team around these, with this title providing a platform for future success.
Surrey’s critics will point to their superior budget relative to peers, creating capacity to invest in both experienced internationals and substantial youth development capabilities, but Surrey must be commended for their decision to blood so many of these players. In an era where many are questions whether young cricketers have the skill set to perform in the longer format of the game, Surrey have used a number of academy products this year to devastating effect. The names are not limited to but include captain Rory Burns, England capped international brothers Tom and Sam Curran, the free scoring Ollie Pope and up and coming spinner Amar Virdi, with these youngsters supported by seasoned pros such as Rikki Clarke and Jade Dernbach, while the dominant Morkel provided expert tutelage, following up from the many years of the Sangakarra masterclass.
With this framework, Surrey have a squad that can dominate county cricket for a number of years, similar to Jason Gillepsie’s Yorkshire side that won multiple titles in quick succession. However, success is often cyclical and as Yorkshire have seen, international call ups can accelerate this process as their decline from the top of the county game coincided with stars such as Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance moving into the international arena. For Surrey this process has already begun with Mark Stoneman, Tom and Sam Curran, Ben Foakes and Ollie Pope all having featured in England squads over the last 12 months, while Rory Burns has been handed the opportunity to succeed Alastair Cook.
Therefore, Surrey’s future challenge will be ensuring that the next line of young talents can replicate the success of those moving onto big and better opportunities, while helping their international stars deal with potential setbacks – following being dropped by England this summer, Mark Stoneman averaged just 33 in 2018 for Surrey, compared to close to 60 in 2017 prior to selection.
This is a challenge that Surrey will be all too familiar with as its great side of the 90s and early 2000s felt the strain of multiple England calls for star names Butcher, Ramprakash, Stewart, Thorpe and others. However, based on the blossoming breed of cricketers that have written themselves into the county’s folklore this season, Surrey supporters have reasons to be optimistic that they can unearth more than capable replacements. Based on recent selection trends, England may also be hoping this proves to be true too.