Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook admitted regaining the Ashes represents an achievement beyond his belief at the start of the series as the emotion of his side taking an unassailable 3-1 lead over Australia nearly got the better of the England captain.

Mark Wood sent Nathan Lyon’s stumps flying to claim victory by an innings and 78 runs that means, after 599 days, the Ashes are back in English hands. It sparked wild celebrations, a scene Cook conceded he had privately doubted was possible before the series given the greenhorn nature of his side.

“From the team’s point of view to win like we’ve done is just beyond belief,” he said. “I didn’t think we were quite ready to win the Ashes at the beginning because I thought you needed a group of players who were match-hardened.

“But the guys have surprised me. We have won really critical moments and the players have really stepped up, which shouldn’t surprise me but it has. They have made big steps from guys with little experience to match winners for England and hardened professionals.”

Alastair Cook cricketer

England’s victory, coming in two days and 39 minutes, was set up on the first morning by Stuart Broad, in the absence of the attack leader Jimmy Anderson,taking eight for 15, before Joe Root’s eighth Test hundred made victory an inevitability.

“I know it sounds a bit silly when you are 2-1 up but the pressure was on, on that first morning.” Cook said. “Every one of those guys can be very proud about the way they have handled the pressure; clearly led by Stuart in the first hour and a half when he did all the damage in the game.

“To bowl a team out for 60 you’ve pretty much won the game. If we batted well we had a chance to win and Joe did that. The guys stood up to the pressure without Jimmy leading the bowling attack. They can be incredibly proud of their last three days work.”

Cook, the third England captain to win two home Ashes series, after WG Grace and Mike Brearley, became emotional at the presentation ceremony whendiscussing the impending retirement of his opposite number, Michael Clarke. The moment brought home the support he received during the dark times that followed his side’s 5-0 whitewash defeat in Australia 19 months ago, where he became one of the focal points for public anger at the decision to dispense with Kevin Pietersen and an early summer defeat to Sri Lanka.

Cook mulled over stepping down from the leadership, only to be talked out of it by his wife, Alice – all of which, standing at the podium in the afterglow of victory, came to a head. Asked about this brief moment where composure was lost, he said: “It was probably just a release. When you’re the captain of any side, you are under a bit more pressure than everyone else.

“When you are so close to doing something you dreamed of doing, you do get a bit emotional. You think of everyone there who supported you through the real tough time, mainly my wife, my family and her family. To support me like they have done probably took me over the edge.