The back-to-back County Champions: 2023 Review: Part Three - Kia Oval Skip to main content

Despite a late title challenge from Essex, Rory Burns’ Surrey side lifted the County Championship trophy aloft for the second time in successive years

After a month and more of limited-overs action, red-ball cricket returned in September as the County Championship approached its business end.

With three rounds remaining, the title race was nearing its climax. A difference of 17 points separated the top two teams in the table. Surrey were fighting to go back-to-back in the Championship – a feat not achieved since 2015. Essex, having won five matches on the trot, had their sights set on toppling the leaders.

A thumping home win over Warwickshire to begin the run-in

Surrey 396 won against Warwickshire 161 and (f/o) 138

Surrey welcomed Warwickshire at The Kia Oval in early September to kick off the final phase of the Championship.

The stakes on the contest were high and expectations aplenty, but once the ball got rolling, Surrey’s nucleus of experienced players stepped up to ease the tension, steering the Three Feathers to a commanding victory in a little more than two days.

Inserted to bat first, Dom Sibley (65) and Jamie Smith (60) wonderfully combined for 99 runs to lay the foundation for the middle-order to pounce on.

A glorious batting display from Ben Foakes (125), with 19 boundaries brought him his third century of another fantastic season. The wicket-keeper-batter orchestrated his innings with Cam Steel (71) at the other end as the two of them expertly swayed Surrey to an imposing 339/4 by the close of day one.

If runs were the order of the first day, wickets took the limelight the next day. Remarkably, 23 batters were dismissed – 17 of them were removed by Surrey – before the end of day two. The floodgates opened when the in-form Ed Barnard (5/66) broke the 156-run stand for the fifth wicket between Foakes and Steel – the third-highest partnership of the season for Surrey. The hosts lost their remaining five wickets for only 53 runs, finishing on 396 all out.

Reunited again, Kemar Roach (4/64) and Dan Worrall (3/34) made the new ball talk and tore into the visitors’ batting order, reducing them to 39/5. Michael Burgess battled hard and plodded to 54, but Surrey’s unrelenting attack proved too much for the Bears as they bundled out for 161 and were forced to follow on.

Having bowled 44.1 overs in the first innings seemed to have no effect on the hosts’ intensity as Worrall (5/25) and Jordan Clark (4/26) – Surrey’s eventual joint leading wicket-takers with 48 scalps apiece – zoned in to create havoc in the second innings. Surrey could have completed the double over Warwickshire on the second day itself if it was not for Dan Mousley’s fighting innings of 61.

It took the Three Feathers merely 15 minutes on the third morning to claim the remaining three wickets and for Worrall to pouch his third five-wicket-haul of the season as Surrey won by an innings and 97 runs. With 22 more points in the bank, the Three Feathers tightened their grip at the top of the table.

Surrey come from behind to earn a draw vs Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire 357 drew with Surrey 185 and (f/o) 142/0

Title-chasing Surrey’s next challenge at The Kia Oval was to take on Northamptonshire, a side desperately fighting to stay in Division One. The hosts were seeking a win and three bonus points to clinch the trophy in south London while the visitors needed a victory as well to remain in the relegation scrap with Kent and Middlesex.

In the lead-up to the game, Rory Burns had cut his long, flowing flocks for The Little Princess Trust – a charity that donates real hair wigs to children and young people who have lost their own hair. The trim also changed the skipper’s fotune with the coin as he broke his five-match losing streak to insert Northamptonshire under overcast conditions at The Kia Oval.

Determined to start well and stick around, the visitors defied Surrey’s lively five-string pace attack on a cold morning but weren’t given the opportunities to pump up the scoring rate. The Three Feathers’ patience bore fruit as the game went deeper into the weather-affected day one, with the exciting Tom Lawes (5/105) leading the charge. After 63.4 gritty overs, bad light forced the umpires to take the players off the field and Northamptonshire closed on 171/6.

The next morning, Surrey would have stepped into the ground with the hope of swiftly hunting down final four Northants wickets and beginning their reply, but Karun Nair – the former Indian international who struck 303* against England in 2016 – stood in their way. The 31-year-old dished out a clinic of batting and treated the spectators with a terrific 150 as his team put up 357 runs on the board.

Northamptonshire carried their first innings momentum into the second, dismissing the hosts for 185 all out and enforcing the follow-on. Jack White (4/45) stood out in the wickets column, but credit was due to each of Northants’ four pacers. It was only an 84-run seventh-wicket stand between Jamie Overton (51) and Ben Foakes (42) that offered Surrey’s sole resistance.

Resistance, however, was the order of the proceedings in the second innings as Rory Burns (71* off 196 balls) and Dom Sibley (67* off 188 balls) strolled to the middle and dug in to ensure the Three Feathers secured a vital draw. Displaying exquisite defensive batting, the openers were unbeaten for 64 overs and 142 runs before Luke Procter, the visiting skipper, shook Burns’ hand and concluded the game.

Three bowling points and a draw would have kept Surrey’s fate in their own hands going into the final fixture but the Three Feathers’ dream to be back-to-back County champions grew closer when Hampshire’s Liam Dawson scored a counter-attacking century against Essex at Chelmsford and Ben Brown finished off the run-chase of 267 runs.

A miraculous recovery from Hampshire meant that Surrey were 20 points into the lead and merely five points away from changing their dream to a reality.

Crowned back-to-back champions in Southampton vs Hampshire

Hampshire 219 & 172 won against Surrey 207 & 132

After six months of hard graft, utmost determination, and compelling cricket, Rory Burns’ Surrey were on the cusp of defending their crown and arrived at The Ageas Bowl for one final push.

The skipper made it two in two with the coin and asked the hosts to bat first. Ever-growing in stature, Tom Lawes (5/27) built on his brilliant form and claimed a second five-for in a row – third of the season – as Surrey rolled out Hampshire for 219, pushed by Ben Brown’s fighting innings of 78 down the order.

20-year-old Lawes, who put in game-changing performances throughout the season, finished his impressive campaign with 39 scalps, boasting the lowest average (19.76) in Surrey’s strong bowling unit!

Mohammad Abbas (3/34) provided the perfect start for the hosts, removing Surrey’s openers cheaply before Liam Dawson (5/44) settled in his stride to keep the contest in balance. Sai Sudharsan’s calm and composed 73 and Jordan Clark’s counterattacking 50* helped the Three Feathers cross the two-hundred mark, but they fell 12 runs short of Hampshire’s total.

Despite failing to secure five bonus points, Surrey were helped out by Northamptonshire, who forced title-chasing Essex to follow on and stopped them from obtaining a full quota of batting points needed to stay in the race. News travelled fast and on the third morning, Will Jacks was halted in his run-up by loud cheers of travelling fans, signifying that the Three Feathers would be crowned champions at the close of the match.

“When I heard those cheers, I didn’t know what to do,” Jacks reflected later on. “I looked around at everyone. Foakesy was clapping but everyone was still in the same spot – I didn’t know if we would come together and have a high-five and huddle. I just did a little clap and looked around and got on with it.”

After that, Jacks found his radar soon enough as he went on to pick up his first five-wicket haul for Surrey. With Cam Steel also taking 4/40, Hampshire were all out for 172 as nine wickets fell to spin on a dry surface that was becoming increasingly spin-friendly.

Chasing 185, wickets fell at regular intervals and Surrey were bowled out 53 runs short, with Sudharshan (40) top-scoring for the visitors again.

ECB chair Richard Thompson was on hand to present the County Championship trophy to Rory Burns, who lifted it for the third time in six years and commenced the party.

“It feels pretty special,” Burns told ESPNcricinfo. “We set out to go back-to-back and the way we have done that is very pleasing.

“We learned a few lessons from 2018. The way we have played our cricket this year has been really positive. How we have taken games on and seized the initiative in big moments. We didn’t want to defend it this season, we wanted to attack it. Not many teams go back-to-back so that is a feather in our cap and a really pleasing element to this one.”