Australian captain Tim Paine on Sunday hailed Steve Smith for his contribution in the drawn Ashes series against England. The visitors lost the fifth and final Test but retained the urn thanks to the 2-2 result.

Paine said that the Australian team will be very hard to beat in the coming years with Smith being in such great form. Smith scored 774 runs in the five-match series [despite missing one match due to injury] and won the players of the series award.

“We’ve still got a way to go,” said Paine. “Obviously Steve [Smith] had an unbelievably good series and won us a couple of Tests by himself so we’ve got some parts that we need to improve. But if we click them into gear while we’ve got Steve at the height of his powers and with the pace attack we’ve got, in the next few years we’re going to be a very hard team to beat.”

Paine said he was disappointed with the loss in the final Test but was proud of the effort his team put through the series to retain the urn.

“We’re taking the urn home so that’s certainly what we came to do,” he said. “We’re thrilled by that, a little disappointed by this game obviously, puts a bit of a dampener on it.”

“We can be really proud of the way we’ve come over here, which is a challenging place for Australians to come and play and win,” he added. “To win two Test matches pretty convincingly, should have won a third [at Headingley] – let that slip no doubt.”

The 34-year-old reckoned that Australia’s big win in the first Test at Edgbaston gave them the belief that they could get the better of England in the series.

“There was so much talk about that being a fortress and how difficult a place it was going to be for us to start the series, probably by design, so for us to come over and win that first Test, and win it, in the end, quite convincingly gave us the belief that we could do it,” said Paine.

The skipper also reflected on his place as a leader in the Australian team. He was given the responsibility after the ball-tampering row in South Africa last year and has done well to keep the group together through tough times.

“There’s plenty of improvement in this side. I still feel I’ve got a little bit to give in that space [captaincy] and we’re always trying to develop more leaders within our group as well.”