When Surrey defeated Yorkshire by 10 wickets at the Micky Stewart Oval, it secured the club’s 21st County Championship title, 20 of them secured outright. Richard Spiller looks back at those which have come previously in Surrey’s history
Titles 1-3: 1890, 1891 & 1892
Captain: John Shuter
Counties had been playing each other in an informal competition since 1864, the sporting press generally decreeing who were the rightful champions, Surrey being the first winners. But other than sharing honours with Nottinghamshire in 1872, the club went through a barren spell in that decade. John Shuter’s appointment as captain in 1880 reignited fortunes, joint winners with Notts again in 1886 and alone at the summit in the following two seasons before a three-way split alongside Lancashire and Notts in 1889.
By the time the County Championship was formalised, Shuter’s team were in full cry, the batting led by prolific Bobby Abel while the bowling was spearheaded by seamers George Lohmann, John Sharpe and Bill Lockwood.
Titles 4-6: 1894, 1895, 1899
Captain: Kingsmill Key
Having slipped to fifth in 1893, Shuter’s reign ended but Surrey had a ready-made leader in the experienced Kingsmill Key and they went straight back to the summit. A formidable batting unit which still included Abel now also featured Tom Hayward and although Lohmann’s fragile health had failed him, Lockwood found a fearsome partner in Tom Richardson. When the title was retained in 1895, Abel amassed 1,787 runs, with Hayward and Maurice Read almost into four figures. And although there was a four-year wait to the next title, Surrey went into the new century as champions. This time Abel, “The Guv’nor”, included 357 against Somerset – still the club’s record individual score – among his 2,124 haul while Lockwood’s 98 wickets led the bowlers.
Title 7: 1914
Captain: Cyril Wilkinson
The shadows of the First World War were lengthening when Surrey struck again under the leadership of Cyril Wilkinson. Hostilities broke out in August, The Oval being requisitioned briefly and Surrey needing to borrow Lord’s for their innings victory over Yorkshire. They returned to The Oval to overwhelm Gloucestershire but amid growing concern about Germany’s advances – and criticism that cricket was continuing – the final two matches were cancelled. It was not until the autumn that the MCC committee decided that Surrey were rightful champions, having averaged four points more per match than nearest challengers Middlesex. Jack Hobbs made 2,499 Championship runs to be the leading run-scorer in the country for the second season running, seamers Bill Hitch (126 wickets) and Tom Rushby (103) the main attacking thrusts.
Title 8: 1950 (shared)
Captain: Michael Barton
The plu-perfect inter-war pitches prepared by ‘Bosser’ Martin meant that even the prolific output of Jack Hobbs and Andy Sandham and the inventiveness of skipper Percy Fender could not take Surrey to a title.
They were a dropped catch away from beating Glamorgan to the summit in 1948, having to wait two years before sharing the title with Lancashire, drawing level with Lancashire by beating Leicestershire by 10 wickets at The Oval. Alec Bedser’s 12-96 were instrumental in that triumph, Wisden reporting that “enthusiastic scenes followed the end of the game”.
Left-hander Laurie Fishlock’s 2,077 haul made him the leading batsman in the country, Jim Laker’s 142 wickets still not enough to earn him a place in the following winter’s tour to Australia.
Titles 9-15: 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958.
Captain: Stuart Surridge (1952-56); Peter May (1957-58).
Stuart Surridge had told the Surrey committee, on his appointment as captain, that they would win the County Championship for the next five years. He was wrong in the best way possible given they put together an unparalled run of seven successive titles.
The buccaneering Surridge was responsible for the handful he had promised, a buccaneering leader never happier when he was leading his side in the field, impatient of batsmen who dallied and intolerant of fielders who dropped catches.
Five players passing 1,000 runs – led by David Fletcher’s 1,674 – meant Surrey were never short of runs in 1952 but it was their bowlers who proved key to their long run. Laker and Lock were lethal on pitches which turned and groundsman Bert Lock ensured they often gained encouragement, opposition sides generally having been undermined by Alec Bedser’s ability to seam and cut the ball off the pitch. Paceman Peter Loader emerged, as did batsmen Ken Barrington and Micky Stewart. Peter May, the finest to emerge since the war, led the batting and then took over from Surridge for the last two titles. Surrey often faced Test calls but the depth of the squad and the industry of stalwarts like Bernie Constable, Tom Clark and Eric Bedser ensured the successes just kept on coming.
Title 16: 1971
Captain: Micky Stewart
Rebuilding after the glory of the 1950s was never going to be easy, the task falling to Micky Stewart. And his task differed from all his predecessors given the arrival of limited overs cricket, demanding diverse skills and a new approach. Signs that Surrey stirring came with a third-placed finish in 1969 and two years later they made a fine late run to clinch the title courtesy of five straight victories in the second half of August.
Only Glamorgan’s last pair prevented the Championship being secured in the penultimate match of the season at The Oval and bowling out teams twice on a ground where the pitches were generally low and slow was nigh on impossible. But bonus points against Hampshire at Southampton were enough to finish the job, Surrey finishing level with Warwickshire but having won more matches. John Edrich’s 1,718 runs was the best return – Graham Roope, Younis Ahmed and Stewart Storey all reaching four-figures – while Geoff Arnold (75), Pat Pocock (78) and Robin Jackman (59) were the outstanding bowlers in an attack which also featured Intikhab Alam, Bob Willis, Storey and Chris Waller. They were indebted to Roope’s 55 catches.
Titles 17-19: 1999, 2000, 2002
Captain: Adam Hollioake
It was an even longer wait for Surrey to top the table again but when it happened they went on a spree which had echoes of the 1890s and 1950s. Leaders for much of the 1998 campaign before faltering, Surrey weren’t going to make the same mistake the following summer. Draws in the opening two matches were followed by a spectacular run of 12 wins in 13 matches which culminated in a two-day victory over Nottinghamshire at The Oval which wrapped up the title with a couple of games to spare. Going unbeaten was equally impressive, not least for a side which fed the England team generously, Alistair Brown the only batsman to pass 1,000 runs but openers Mark Butcher and Ian Ward going close. Martin Bicknell (71) led the attack superbly, Saqlain Mushtaq (58 wickets at 11) and Ian Salisbury (60) proving a lethal pair of spinners.
Retaining the title was an even greater challenge given the Championship had now been divided into two divisions, Surrey failing to win any of the first four matches of 2000 – losing one of them – making it even harder. A hair-raising win by two runs over Hampshire began the fightback and in midsummer a run of seven straight wins put them firmly in command. That included two massive wins over challengers Leicestershire within three weeks, Brown dominating the first at Oakham School with an epic 295no and Bicknell the return – on his home ground at Guildford – in claiming a remarkable 16 wickets. The title was sewn up through bonus points in the final match, against Lancashire at Old Trafford, Surrey’s batting again led by Brown (935), Butcher (891) and Ward (894) but the remarkable depth of the side ensuring they were difficult to bowl out. Saqlain (66) and Salisbury (52) were again leading lights with the ball but paid tribute to the work done by Bicknell (60) and Alex Tudor (47).
Surrey finished fourth in 2001 – there were brief concerns about relegation, three teams out of nine dropping down at that stage – but at the start of the following season had far more on their mind after the death of all-rounder Ben Hollioake in a car crash in March. When the campaign started, they won the first three outings and although only one more came in the next six matches, they pulled off a remarkable triumph at Canterbury. Requiring 410 to beat Kent, Surrey looked beaten at 208-7. But opener Ward (168no) gained support from Saqlain (60) and then Jimmy Ormond (43no) to pull off a remarkable two-wicket heist and another title was secured with two matches in hand.
Ward’s 1,708 runs made him the leading scorer in the country – and over the three title seasons – with Brown (1,211) and Mark Ramprakash (1,073) in close support. The wickets were spread around more evenly, Saqlain’s 53 in front again with newcomer Ormond’s 51 impressive.
Title 20: 2018
Captain: Rory Burns
Surrey’s fortunes over the next 16 years resembled a game of snakes and ladders, the difficulties of rebuilding a team while staying in the top division underlined by slipping out of it three times. Six of the next 13 seasons were spent in the lower tier before the third return in 2015.
In 2018 Rory Burns succeeded Gareth Batty as captain and the building work of the previous four seasons under director of cricket Alec Stewart paid off handsomely. Only one of the first three matches was won but after that nine straight wins ensured Surrey would never be caught, the title being secured with two matches to spare when Worcestershire were beaten by three wickets.
Burns led from the front, making 1,359 runs – top-scorer nationwide and earning an England call-up – with` Ollie Pope’s 986 at 70 a huge contribution.
The arrival of South African paceman Morne Morkel provided a cutting edge which had previously been missing, his 59 wickets coming in just 10 matches, Rikki Clarke’s return from Warwickshire seeing him claim 47 victims with Jade Dernbach (32) and off-spinner Amar Virdi (39) the other main struts of the attack.