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A FAIRYTALE SUMMER AT THE OVAL

By last September, Surrey county cricket club had only scraped together two wins. They finished the 2017 season some 85 points off the top of the table.

Fast forward a year, however, and south London’s finest have been crowned champions of the country.

They claimed the title in exhilarating fashion at the end of a summer of high drama at the Oval ground in Kennington. The season of 2018 was one in which Surrey finally delivered in terms of both the title and some twisting, turning d

Not only did they end up winning the first division for the first time in 16 years; they also took part in a gripping final match of the season against Essex, the team they usurped as champions – in which all four results – win, loss, draw and that rarest occurrence in cricket, an exact tie, seemed possible going into the last hours of the contest.

And, as if that were not enough, the Oval also played host to the final England match played by Alastair Cook. In an emotional, fairy-tale finale, the nation’s record-breaking run-scorer signed off from Tests with a hundred that brought everyone in the ground to their feet.

International matches are, of course, played in SE11 every summer but, for affluent under-achievers Surrey, it was the season when their riches of wealth and talent finally shone through in county cricket.

Surrey strolled to the championship with two games to go. Going into the final match against Essex, they had racked up 10 victories and three draws. This end-of-September encounter see-sawed throughout, with Surrey skittled for just 67 in their first innings – their lowest total for 32 years – and conceding a massive first innings deficit of 410 before mounting a stirring comeback, in which they were finally bowled out for 541. This marathon effort pushed Essex to the brink of an historic defeat before the East Anglians won home with just one wicket to spare.

In that titanic encounter, which played out largely in bright September sunshine, most of Surrey’s stars were on show – a joyous riposte to those fans who understandably complain that England international players are seen too rarely in the county game.

There was Rory Burns, the opening batsman whose place as the top-scorer in county cricket this summer has earned him a place on England’s winter tour to Sri Lanka. Then there was Ollie Pope, the middle-order player who won his first England cap in August against the might of India.

And, in a rare four-day appearance, was Jason Roy, whose batting fireworks have made him a regular in England’s limited overs side.

At the end of the season the three men were all to be found in the top five of the national averages – and they all were on show against Essex this month.

Their efforts were given rocket power by Morne Morkel, the freshly-retired South African fast bowler whose five scalps helped him to a haul of 59 wickets in just 10 matches at a stellar average of 14.32.

The key man missing was Sam Curran, the all-rounder who made his Test debut in June and was named England’s player of the series against India.

Curran has been brilliant, but it says much of Surrey’s strength that they did not cry over his absence.

Surrey’s success will live long in the memory of their members and their dominance deserves to be remembered by cricket fans around the country. And Morkel and co will be back next summer.

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