George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
When a game finishes as dramatically as the Oval Test, it would be easy to overlook all the moments that led to the final outcome. Moeen Ali's hat-trick - the first he has taken at any level of the game - was certainly a fitting ending to the ground's 100th Test.
It stretched a remarkable run of records Moeen is accumulating in recent times: already one of just three men to score 1,000 Test runs and take 30 Test wickets in a calendar year (Ian Botham and Jacques Kallis are the other two) after a strong 2016, he recently reached the milestone of 100 wickets and 2,000 runs quicker than Garry Sobers, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Botham et al, gained a place on the honours board at Lord's denied the great Shane Warne and returned the best figures by an England offspinner at Trent Bridge since 1956. It can't keep being dismissed as an aberration, can it?
Now he has become the first man in history to take a Test hat-trick at The Oval and the first England spinner to take one anywhere since 1938. He has 18 wickets at a cost of 14.72 in this series. And, with the confidence to give the ball more air and attempt more variation, there is no reason to doubt there is more to come.
But the seeds of England's victory were sown long before Moeen claimed that hat-trick.
Most crucially, they were sown on the first day when Alastair Cook negated a dangerous attack and some treacherous conditions to set a platform on which Ben Stokes was able to build. Then, after Stokes had contributed the most mature performance of his career to date, Toby Roland-Jones was able to exploit conditions which might have been tailor-made for him. An assured debut from Tom Westley and typically selfless half-century from Jonny Bairstow rammed home the advantage.
While it is true Roland-Jones will rarely encounter Test surfaces offering as much assistance to his style of bowling as he found in the first innings here, his virtues - height, accuracy, an ability to hit the seam and adapt his bowling to the circumstances - will have value everywhere. That includes Australia. While he faces a huge fight to keep his place once the likes of Chris Woakes and Mark Wood recover their fitness, it would be a major surprise if he is not part of the Ashes squad now.
Such was Stokes' hostility and Roland-Jones' accuracy, James Anderson was not called upon to bowl until more than an hour into the final day. He finished the second innings having bowled the fewest overs of the England attack; a scenario that has been unthinkable for much of the last decade, when a succession of England captains have turned to Anderson at the first opportunity.
Is this an example of his waning powers?
Up to a point, perhaps. There's little doubt that Anderson's pace is diminished and little doubt he is not too far from the end now. But it is only a Test since he claimed a five-for and, even here, he bowled 26 overs for 51 runs and claimed three wickets. At worst, he demanded respect and retained control.
So he, too, will surely go to Australia. And if his diminishing role on the pitch is compensated by the wisdom and experience he provides to other bowlers, so be it. "There's a reason he fields at mid-off," Joe Root said afterwards. "Don't underestimate what he brings to this team."
But it was, without doubt, England's more disciplined and sophisticated first innings batting that set-up this win. After the laissez-faire nonsense of some recent performances, England showed a willingness to graft that will complement their natural flair. This was probably the most pleasing element of their performance.
Other seeds were sown long before that.
There were three men in this England side who had developed, in part at least, through the MCC system. Both Westley and Roland-Jones graduated through the MCC Universities scheme (MCCU), while Dawid Malan was an MCC Young Cricketer (MCC YC).
Westley and Malan may well have 'made it' without the MCC's assistance. Westley was already on the radar of Essex when he went to Durham University, while Malan had played first-class cricket in South Africa before benefitting from the MCC YC scheme that is designed to catch late developers and the best of those who are missed by the county system.
But Roland-Jones? He had slipped out of the county scene when he went to university. Originally in the Middlesex system as a batsman, he benefited from a late growth spurt that bestowed new gifts upon him as a bowler. Had he not gone to Leeds-Bradford, he would probably have been lost to the game.
The MCCU scheme is a remarkable asset to the English game. Set-up by former England opener Graeme Fowler in 1996, the aim was to ensure young people did not have to choose between education and cricket. By providing them with good quality coaching and playing opportunities at the same time as allowing them to gain a further education at one of six centres (Cambridge, Oxford, Cardiff, Durham, Leeds-Bradford and Loughborough), the scheme not only encourages some into sport who might otherwise be lost, but prepares those who do break into the professional for the life after their sporting retirement.
The most famous graduate is probably Andrew Strauss, but there have been many more including Zafar Ansari, Sam Billings, Monty Panesar and Heather Knight of recent England players. At present, somewhere approaching 25% (the ratio has risen recently) of current county cricketers have come through the programme. Many more go on to coach at schools or in clubs. Nearly all finish with a degree to fall back upon when their playing career ends. It has one of the great, though largely unheralded, success stories of English cricket in recent years. It is doubtful anything has done more to avoid hardship in future generations of cricketers.
But the scheme is under threat. Partly because some believe the games do not warrant first-class status - and it is true, they are sometimes uncomfortably one-sided - and partly because it is currently funded almost entirely by the MCC, it has recently been the subject of an extensive review by independent consultants, Inside Track. Now a working party (including Strauss and the MCC's head of cricket, John Stephenson) has been formed to study the review and consider its recommendations.
It is possible the universities' first-class status will be rescinded entirely - which might well disincentive some students into attending university or pursuing a career in cricket - or, as an outside possibility, be left unchanged.
A more likely option would see the university centres amalgamated - perhaps into something like MCCU North and MCCU South - for their first-class games against the counties and into a Combined MCCU team for the 50-over competition. That, it is argued, might concentrate the standard of the sides while continuing to provide the carrot of first-class cricket to prospective students. Whether it would encourage as many students into the scheme as is the case at present is debatable.
There is another aspect to this. We do not have to look very far to find example of cricketers - sometimes highly successful cricketers - who have fallen on hard times after their playing career has ended. It has, at times, looked like an epidemic. While the PCA does tremendous work in helping players prepare for the challenges of life after cricket, little can help more than a good education and time to mature in a benevolent yet still high-performance environment. The one-sided nature of some MCCU contests might be considered a price worth paying when compared to such gains.
While the example of Roland-Jones provides timely evidence of the cricketing merit of the programme, it is to be hoped that the working party gives proper consideration to the duty of care the game owes to the next generation of players by preparing them for more than cricket.
Morally and practically, the MCCU scheme is working. Tinker with it at our peril.
England vs South Africa
SA tour of England