The weather forecast last Saturday promised 100 per cent likelihood of rain. I like that formulation: it doesn’t leave much wiggle room. And so it turned out as I pitched up at the Oval just as the players trooped off in the wet. Even so, at the halfway stage, there was still a 100 per cent likelihood of an England victory; 250 odd runs ahead, nine wickets remaining, and a fragile South African batting side.
This has been an odd series: three intensely uncompetitive matches but some thrilling Test cricket. England may have stumbled upon the best side for the Ashes and that tricky first morning in Brisbane. Of the three England newcomers at the Oval I like the look of Tom Westley most. Could England have found a proper no. 3 at last? He hit a half-century on his Test debut at no. 3, and only a handful of others have done that: one was the great P.B.H. May of blessed memory. Big shoes to fill.
It was a sensational arrival for Middlesex’s Toby Roland-Jones: he has spent years doing the hard yards on the county circuit and deserved his eight wickets. He seems likely to go to Australia but I am not sure he is anything more than an English conditions bowler. He bowls in the low to mid 80s, but does that give him enough zip to trouble batsmen on flat unresponsive pitches? My guess is Steve Smith and co would fancy batting all day against him in Brisbane. Ben Stokes, of course, has become a superstar, Bothamesque in his all-round magnificence. As with Woods or Federer or Jonny Wilkinson, we’re lucky to be around in the era of B. Stokes. Also lucky he didn’t decide to go off and play for New Zealand.