Paine savours moment but challenges side to improve
Australian captain Tim Paine couldn't help but feel flat even though he declared mission accomplished after raising the Ashes urn at The Oval.
The first Aussie leader to do that in England for 18 years praised a group which did enough to win two Tests in tough conditions and realise an aim two years in the planning.
A last Test 135-run loss ensured celebrations were muted and a stony-faced coach Justin Langer sitting in the change rooms as the players sprayed champagne was evidence that one big box, a first series win since 2001, remained unticked.
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Paine conceded as much but also said he and his team would head back to Australia with unfinished business after the 2-2 series with ambitions to be the best in the world.
"Taking the urn home was what we came here to do. We're thrilled by that," Paine sad.
"This game puts a bit of a dampener on it. But overall if you said we would be taking them home we would have jumped at that.
"It's a bit close to a loss to be absolutely thrilled with what's happened but when you put in perspective what we have done as a group and if you had said we would retain the Ashes I think we would have taken it. Most Australians would have.
"I think we can be very proud to have come here which is a challenging place for Australians to come and play and win, to win two Tests pretty convincingly and should have won a third (the third at Headingley) that we let slip.
"But we have done a lot right."
Paine conceded individual brilliance from Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood was at the core of his team's two Test wins at first Edgbaston and Old Trafford, and walked away confident the building blocks were in place.
Twin centuries from a resurgent Matthew Wade, in the first and last Tests, and runs from find of the series Marnus Labuschagne were also positives for a team only picked the week before the series began.
But Paine said continually that the need for more improvement was a significant takeaway from a series in which too much had to be produced by too few.
"Every team needs to keep improving. Steve (Smith) is the best player in the world and he is still improving. The moment we stop thinking we need to improve there is something wrong," Paine said.
"As a whole series we had a whole heap of good moments in a country where Australia hasn't had a lot of success for a long time. We can be proud of that.
"Steve had a great series and won a couple of Test by himself but we've got a couple of parts that we need to improve.
"If we can click them into gear when he is at the height of his powers and with the pace attack we have got in the next few years we are going to be a hard team to beat."