Joe Root was delighted to end English cricket’s golden summer on a high after drawing the Ashes but will not rest until the urn is back on home soil.
The England captain arrived at The Oval this week knowing Australia would retain after taking an unassailable lead in Manchester last week, but walked off the field having squared the the scoreline at 2-2 with a 135-run victory.
By bowling out the tourists for 263 – Stuart Broad and Jack Leach sharing eight wickets and Root’s part-time off-spin responsible for the other two – England not only averted a first home defeat in the series since 2001, but also ended their World Cup-winning domestic campaign on a high.
“I was desperate to win this series but 2-2 looks a hell of a lot better than 3-1, that’s for sure,” said Root.
“What a summer of cricket it’s been. The World Cup was incredible, fantastic viewing. The cricket was gripping and to back it up with such an evenly matched Ashes series…for English cricket, that’s a success.”
It does not take much for Root to reveal his primary ambition, though, to finally lead his country to victory against their biggest rivals.
He oversaw a 4-0 loss at the first attempt, has gone one better this time and is now fully focused on doing whatever it takes to get the job done behind enemy lines in 2021-22.
“Hopefully this will be a massive stepping stone and the starting point for us to kick on as a team,” he said.
“We’ve got an opportunity now to really push and do everything we can to prepare extremely well for that next tour of Australia. That’s going to be a huge focus for me and, I’d like to hope, for English cricket.
“That’s got to be our main focus – going down there and winning. Every Test match between now and then is an opportunity to push your case. I’m desperate to take this team forward and I will do everything I can to prepare us for that series.”
No Englishman emerges from the last few months in greater credit than Ben Stokes, the hero of the World Cup final at Lord’s and the man behind a contender for best Test innings of all time to keep the series alive at Headingley.
Both moments will live long in the memory but Root’s vice-captain insisted he would trade personal glory for team success.
“It was disappointing to know we couldn’t get the Ashes back but we came here with a lot of pride and looking to draw the series,” said Stokes.
“I’ll look back on winning at Headingley in a few years’ time with fond memories probably, but I’d swap it for winning the Ashes.”
Visiting captain Tim Paine had hoped to be Australia’s first captain to win in England for 18 years but was more than happy with the consolation prize.
“We’re taking the urn home, that’s certainly what we came here to do,” he said.
“Overall, if you’d said we would’ve been taking them home, we’d have jumped out and taken it.
“To be captain of a team that’s come here and retained the Ashes is something that I’m sure I’ll never forget.”