Surrey could only earn a draw at Northamptonshire on Thursday, meaning they have an eight-point advantage over Hampshire going into the final two rounds of matches.
Surrey will host Yorkshire next week at the Kia Oval, which has been renamed the Mickey Stewart Oval for the match in celebration of the club legend’s 90th birthday on Friday.
Although Surrey will still be missing Will Jacks, Sam Curran and Reece Topley, on tour with England, and the injured Jamie Overton, they will welcome Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes back.
Pope and Foakes were part of the England team that beat South Africa at the Oval on Monday, ruling them out of this week’s game. But they will be in the squad for the games against Yorkshire and third-placed Lancashire in the final week.
“We are back at the top, eight points clear,” said Head Coach Gareth Batty. “Those are our eight points and we’ve got to make it very difficult for anyone to lessen that gap. We need to extend that gap. We go back to the Oval next week against Yorkshire, with every game a big game now.
“We’ve been top of the table since the early part of the season. Somebody is going to have to work very hard to take those points off us. We almost forced a result here this week and at some point we will get the extra points that are required.
“There will be more options for us to select from next week. We will assess some bodies, where people are at, and will pick a team that will hopefully get us a win against Yorkshire.”
On the surface, Hampshire have the simpler run-in, as they host a depleted Kent side, then travel to Edgbaston to face Warwickshire. Kent will welcome back Zak Crawley, but will be without the injured Sam Billings and Matt Milnes, while Jordan Cox is on international duty.