England knew Australia would be lifting the urn after they took an unassailable 2-1 lead at Old Trafford last week but the response at the end of a long and historic summer of international cricket was a stylish one.
Four wickets apiece from Stuart Broad and Jack Leach, plus two for the captain’s part-time off-spin, rolled the tourists over for 263 and sealed a 135-run win that sealed a well-earned 2-2 draw.
That represents an improvement on Root’s last experience of the series, a humbling 4-0 loss Down Under, and he intends to do everything in his power to ensure England go one better again when hostilities resume in two-and-a-half years.
“I thought the performance this week was a lot closer to the template of where we want to be in Test cricket. Hopefully that will be a massive stepping stone and 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.”
Root had called for a big response after events in Manchester and was happy to see his team delivering. It meant an international campaign that saw England win the World Cup for the first time and elbow their way back into the the spotlight in a way not seen since the 2005 Ashes, ended on a positive note.
Events of the past few months have given the sport a fresh platform and nobody is prouder of that than the man at the top.
“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 pictured. “That World Cup was incredible… fantastic viewing. The cricket was gripping and to back it up with such an evenly matched Ashes series… what a summer of cricket it’s been. For English cricket, that’s a success.”
Nobody has done more to entertain and excite in that time than Ben Stokes, who has at times represented an all-action super-hero. It was he who carried England over the line when they looked like falling in the World Cup final and his innings in Leeds that left typically sober onlookers declaring the best of all time. Speaking at the presentation ceremony he said he would trade his fairy-tale knock in for a chance to lift the urn this week.
“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.”
England might have done just that had Steve Smith not produced a classic series of his own, churning out an incredible 774 runs in seven visits.
Stuart Broad got him for just 23 on the final day of the series, leaving Root to offer a wry reflection on the man of the series.
“He’s been a pain, really,” said the skipper. “He’s done something very special and been the difference.”
Smith saluted Australia’s retention of the urn at the end of a “spectacular” contest after seeing Matthew Wade sign off with a century. Smith said: “It’s been an amazing couple of months in England.
“The cricket’s been spectacular. The series has ebbed and flowed.
“I’ve loved every minute and am proud to have been able to perform for Australia and bring the urn home.
“The middle of the wicket still played pretty well, and Wade applied himself, batted beautifully today. But England played terrific cricket.”
Australia captain Tim Paine was disappointed to have lost the fifth Test, but proud of his side’s performances over the series.
Asked if he had any regrets, Paine said: “Regrets? I’ve got a couple – to start with, the toss. We didn’t take our chances on day one, we didn’t back up our bowlers.
“No doubt today puts a dampener on it, but from where this group’s come from, to retain the Ashes is still a big deal.”