Finishing unbeaten is the new ambition of Surrey after wrapping up the Specsavers County Championship title for the first time in 16 years.

They went into this week’s clash at Taunton against second-placed Somerset – who started 51 points behind – boasting a proud record of 10 wins from 12 matches, the last nine in succession. It equalled the club’s previous best run, set in 1957, with outgoing champions Essex heading to the Kia Oval for the season’s finale from next Monday.

Five of those victories have come by an innings and another by 10 wickets but Surrey showed a few nerves in confirming their place at the summit, only beating basement side Worcestershire by three wickets at New Road after being set 272.

Having conceded a lead of 68 in the first innings, it took another magnificent performance by South African fast bowlers Morne Morkel to get them back into the match, his 5-24 ensuring the hosts were dismissed for 203 in their second innings and seeing him reach 50 wickets in just eight games – all of them won.

Skipper Rory Burns added 66 to the 122 he made earlier in the game, putting on 111 with his opening partner Mark Stoneman (59,) but after that Ollie Pope’s 49 was the best and Surrey were in danger of defeat at 260-7, mainly thanks to Dillon Pennington’s 3-41. But Rikki Clarke (18no) underlined his superb all-round contribution and was at the wicket when Morkel (9no) hit the winning runs to launch the celebrations.

Clarke, 36, only returned to The Oval from a decade away late last summer and reckoned: “It’s been a wonderful season and a fantastic team effort. If we can go unbeaten as well that would be a huge achievement.”

It is the 19th time Surrey have won the competition outright since it became official in 1890 – sharing with Lancashire in 1950 – and the contribution of Burns in his first year as captain has been immense. His 1,241 runs, the fifth time in as many years that he has reached four-figures, make him the most prolific batsman in the country and he has used his resources expertly. If he is not selected for England’s winter tour of Sri Lanka it will be a major injustice.

For his county the contrast with their fortunes a decade ago, when they were relegated without a victory, could not be starker. Having largely trodden water for the next five seasons and been relegated again, they put Alec Stewart in direct control and since then the improvements have come steadily, working with well-chosen head coaches in South African Graham Ford and – for the past three seasons – Australian Michael Di Venuto.

For Stewart, the key to sustained growth was developing a core of homegrown talent and then augmenting it with high-class imports. He explained: ““You’ve got to have a Surrey nucleus to the squad. It’s almost a unique club in that you’ve got to understand the club to work there, I think.

“I’m biased because I know it inside out from a young age but it is a different club to others, I feel, and if you understand it you’ve got more chance of knowing how it should work potentially. 

“But then it’s about appointing good people and then there is this group of players. They have grown together.”