BY MARCUS HOOK
Head coach Michael Di Venuto rates Surrey’s title success this season as a “much better feeling” than when he was a player and won back-to-back crowns with Durham in 2008 and 2009.
Di Venuto, 44, opened the batting for the most northerly of the 18 first-class counties.
Now he has helped mastermind Surrey finishing top of the pile in 2018.
Di Venuto said: “I’ve won the championship as a player, but to win it as a coach and see everything you have planned come together is a much better feeling.
“As a coaching staff we want to help each individual be the best possible player they can be. I want them playing for England. It’s as simple as that. I want to be sitting on my couch watching them walk out to bat or get the ball in their hand and do well for their country.
“All of the youngsters are very fast learners, especially Sam Curran and Ollie Pope, who keep growing and going from strength to strength. With every game they play, they’re getting better and better and that’s what we’re all about here.
“I’m so proud as coach to see those two young boys go out and perform and look right at home on the biggest stage.
“And now I’m really looking forward to seeing what Rory Burns can do with an England shirt on. His [call-up] is certainly well deserved. He’s been a consistent run-scorer in county cricket for the last five years, scoring over a thousand first-class runs in each of those years, but this year he’s really taken his game to another level.
“He’s scored the big hundreds; he’s led the side, so captaincy certainly hasn’t affected his cricket – in fact, it’s just got better. Rory’s a very good leader. He’s certainly led from the front, the way he’s played and he’s certainly made his decisions out on the ground.”
The season climaxed with an enthralling contest at the Oval, which started with Surrey being bowled out for 67 and ended, three days later, with Essex getting over the line with their last two batsmen at the crease.
Amid extraordinary scenes Ryan ten Doeschate’s superb 53 not out from 62 balls earned the visitors a nerve-shredding one-wicket win as champions Surrey just failed to prevent the 2017 championship winners from chasing down a target of 132.
Earlier, Morne Morkel’s 4-28 spearheaded Surrey’s brilliant performance in the field as they strained every sinew on a pulsating final day to prevent Essex from spoiling their unbeaten record.
Di Venuto said: “I’m really, really proud of the way the guys have played this year. They’ve played some sensational cricket and after a poor first day in this game, I think we showed our true colours – the way we just clawed our way back and almost pinched it in the end.
“We’ll have some time off now. A few of the boys are going away on England tours, but the rest of the squad will come back in November, and start the pre-season again.
“We know this title wasn’t won in September. It started right back on the first day of pre-season. I’m lucky enough to have an outstanding staff, who look after all their fitness and make sure they’re ready to go by the start of the summer.”
AN OVER OF STATS
Ball 1 – Three of the four men who topped this year’s first-class batting averages are Surrey batsmen – Ollie Pope, who averaged 70.42, Jason Roy (65.33) and Rory Burns (64.71). Top of the pile was Worcestershire’s Mooen Ali (76.60).
Ball 2 – Surrey’s points tally of 254 to take this year’s County Championship title is the most since Yorkshire’s 286 in 2015 (when the campaign consisted of 16 matches per side, compared with the 14 now).
Ball 3 – Since 2003, only three sides have notched up 250 points or more in their title-winning season. Surrey’s average of 18.14 points per match this term is the best since Warwickshire won the County Championship with 337 points in 1995 (average 19.82).
Ball 4 – Surrey garnered 41 batting bonus points, which was not only eight more than any other team in Division One, but also more bonus points any side managed with the ball in the top flight. Interestingly, each of the bottom four teams in Division One scored more bowling bonus points than Surrey did.
Ball 5 – So, Division One bids farewell to Lancashire and Worcestershire and welcome to Warwickshire (who bounced back from Division Two at the first attempt) and Kent (who haven’t been in Division One since 2010).
Ball 6 – However, Lancashire, who finished level on points with Notts, would have stayed up had they not been deducted a point for a slow over-rate in the Roses Match against Yorkshire at Old Trafford in July.