London: Run-machine Steve Smith described himself as being “pretty cooked” after his prolific bat ensured Australia will return home having retained the coveted urn after their 2-2 drawn Ashes series against England.
Smith’s tally of 774 runs from seven innings with a Bradmanesque 110-plus average in a bowler-dominated series illustrates how he single-handedly carried Australia’s run-scoring burden.
Marnus Labuschagne was the next Australian with 353, while Matthew Wade, with 337, was the only other Australian to have aggregated 200 or more.
“I have given it my all while I have been here for the last four-and-a-half months but I didn’t have much more to give today,” Smith told reporters on Sunday after England salvaged a win at The Oval to ensure the first drawn Ashes series since 1972.
“I was pretty cooked mentally and physically and I am looking forward to a couple of weeks off and heading back for the Australian summer.”
England’s two victories in the series came in a match Smith missed after a blow to his neck and one in which he scored his only sub-50 score of the series.
Smith’s prolific run not only restored him at the top of Test batting rankings but also won over the hostile English fans, who booed him throughout the preceding World Cup and much of the Ashes series.
“It was a nice reception when I walked off, would have been nice to have a few more runs under my belt,” Smith said after his dismissal for 23 in the second innings at The Oval.
Few expected the 30-year-old to rediscover the form he had shown before being banished to the sidelines for 12 months for his role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year.
But he put to rest such fears by smashing a magnificent 144 on day one of the Edgbaston Test, scoring more than half of the team total of 284 in the series opener.
“First Test is always important in an Ashes series and to pull the team out of trouble gave me the confidence to know I could slot straight back in and perform,” Smith said.
England captain Joe Root spoke of his pride in his team after they won the final Test by 135 runs on Sunday to draw the series.
“It is Ashes cricket,” Root said. “Every game you turn up and you are playing for your country. It means so much to everyone. You can see at different periods someone wrestled it back into our favour.”
England made 294 in their first innings after being put in to bat and Jofra Archer took six wickets as Australia were bowled out for 225 to give the hosts control of the match.
“For the first time in this series, we felt in front of the game all of the way through. We have to get used to it more and more,” Root said.
Joe Denly made a battling 94 to ensure England had a healthy lead and despite Matthew Wade’s defiant century, fast bowler Stuart Broad and spinner Jack Leach took four wickets each on the fourth day to secure victory for Root’s side.
“I thought we were brilliant,” the captain said. “To bounce back from a very difficult emotional week, to come and play in the manner we have, the team has character in abundance.”
England had been criticised for some lacklustre performances in the Ashes following their World Cup victory on home soil and Root admitted they had not been good enough at times.
“This was more of a template of how to play moving forward,” he said. “It is a step in the right direction. I am very proud of everyone’s effort throughout the summer.”