Jeremy Blackmore talks to Surrey's triumphant captain about legacy, his youthful charges and selection for this winter's England tour to Sri Lanka.
Surrey’s triumph in winning the County Championship after a 16-year wait has finally started to sink in for skipper Rory Burns.
Speaking exclusively to The Cricket Paper, Burns praised the exceptional efforts of his squad, but warned consistency is the key if they want to retain their title next year.
“It's sunk in a little bit, though not fully, quite what we’ve achieved. I haven’t had time to quite reflect on it personally yet, but what we've achieved is exceptional. It’s what the club set out to achieve at the start of the year to get the Championship back to Surrey. I’m delighted at that.”
When I ask him about legacy, he says: “I don’t think you’re as good as you are when you're good and I don’t think you’re as bad as you are when you’re bad. That’s probably a good place for us to start.
“We’ve got to stay level and consistent. We started off trying to win this title last November, running our socks off and in the gym, so we’ve got to strip it back.
“We’ve enjoyed it, we’ve celebrated this triumph, but at the same time there was a lot of hard work that went in it, guys coming in day in, day out, trying to get better every day. So, it’s about not getting too far ahead of yourself in terms of legacy, it’s about trying to stay consistent and hopefully we can try and replicate that next year.
“It’s obviously a lot harder to defend something than win it for the first time, so our focus should be on that.”
Burns praised former captain Gareth Batty for laying the foundations for this year’s title.
“How we left it for me to take over, compared to what he had when he took over was quite outstanding. The way he stabilized the club, - obviously with the help of management and everyone at the club – but the way he did it on the playing side was quite exceptional. I can't speak highly enough of him to allow me take over at such a stage. So, it's been a journey that's probably culminated over the last four or five years.”
On taking over the captaincy reins, Burns was confident that he had the squad to challenge for honours with the right mix of homegrown youth and experience.
“We’ve got most bases covered in our dressing room. A few people have tipped us in recent years to do really well and we probably haven't quite achieved what we wanted to, but this year it all seemed to line up, the way the season went.
“We got ourselves on a roll and managed to sustain that for a nine-game winning streak and out of 14 games that's generally going to take you pretty close. We’ve tried to add to that squad already and get ourselves in a stable place where we know exactly what we’re doing.”
Burns was particularly excited at the performance of the youngsters who came through the academy.
“They’ve really been allowed to come and do what they need to do because there’s a core of older, more experienced guys, allowing them to do their thing.
“What really hit home was when we took a picture – when we lifted the Championship trophy – and there were 14 or 15 of us that are homegrown who had come through the system with Gareth Townsend. That was something that hit home just how quite impressive what had just happened was.”
Despite Surrey remaining unbeaten until the very last game of the season, Burns never allowed his side to be complacent.
“I never thought that the Championship was coming home until Morne pulled that ball off his hips for four at Worcester and even then I was already thinking about the next game.
“I never allowed myself to get too far ahead, but I reckon probably the biggest turning point was the pink ball game against Lancashire, where we came in at lunch and they needed 20-odd and we needed one wicket.
“Somerset had already won, so, the pressure was on because the gap was closing if we didn't win. We took the new ball and Graham Onions dispatched Sam Curran for six.
“That was the pivotal moment when we managed to get over the line there thanks to Will Jacks’ incredible one-handed catch off Morne’s bowling. That extra little bit of belief came into the squad. Not that we didn’t believe before, but when things have taken a long time, you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and you always try and stay in the moment.”
Morkel arrived only partway through the season due to injury, but had a significant impact with international class pace and bounce, taking 59 wickets.
“It’s well documented what he does on the park,” says Burns, “but you want to sign good cricketers, but you also want to sign good blokes. Morne is certainly is that.
“I can't speak highly enough of him, the way he fitted into our dressing room, how he goes about his business is a great example for young cricketers. He possesses a wealth of knowledge at the highest level which he can pass on, so it’s been great having him around.”
Surrey finished the season with a defeat to Essex in an absolute thriller of a game on the final afternoon.
“That was a quite remarkable game of cricket. I'm not sure how we managed to drag ourselves back into it and even give ourselves a sniff of winning it. But to only lose that by one wicket with a deficit of 410 after being bowled out for 67 in our first innings was quite a remarkable effort and a sign of our character and how we wanted to go about our business all year.
“It didn’t feel like a loss, it felt like we’d done absolutely everything that we could to win the game and we just came up too short.
“It was a great showing for the County Championship, especially it was live on Sky.”
Burns’ own form with the bat has been extraordinary (1,359 runs at 64.71) in a difficult year for batsmen. Typically modest about his own game, he agrees the captaincy has helped his batting.
“The fact is if you nick off early, you’re not stewing about your own performance. You’ve got 10 other blokes to think about and another 15 on top of that in the squad so it’s been nice to take the pressure off my own game and just allow myself to go out and play and not worry too much about what happens to me. So, the captaincy has helped.
“I’m not sure whether I was a major factor in the success or not because you’ve got to take 20 wickets to win games of cricket and we did that consistently throughout the year, so that was probably the major factor. You’ve just got to get enough runs on the board so your bowlers have got something to bowl at like we did in that last game.”
There has been a clamour all season for Burns to earn an England call-up, with Director of Cricket Alec Stewart leading the charge.
“It was obviously something I was aware of, but I tried not to let it be a focus. I just tried to keep doing what I was doing at Surrey. The captaincy again probably helped that, thinking about other guys, in terms of day to day business, so I couldn’t get too wrapped up in my own personal performance because I was doing everything I could to get the County Championship back to Surrey.
“I'm absolutely delighted to be selected [for the winter tour to Sri Lanka]. When I started playing cricket when I was six, it was what you wanted to do, you wanted to represent your country and to get in the squad and potentially get an opportunity to do that, I’m incredibly proud.”