Having put on a brave face in the aftermath of Headingley, Australia's captain, Tim Paine, admitted in the afterglow of retaining the Ashes in England for the first time in 18 years that the trauma of that defeat had been enough to break a team.

What's more, he reckoned that the wider trials and tribulations of Australian cricket over the past 18 months, in the wake of the Newlands scandal that thrust the Test captaincy on his shoulders and the national coaching job on Justin Langer's, served as an important contributor to the team's ability to rebound from Leeds with a largely commanding victory over England at Old Trafford, culminating in a far better collective display in the field on the final day to bowl out the hosts with 13.4 overs to spare.

"In terms of what we've been able to achieve as a group is pretty satisfying from where we've come from in the last 18 months," Paine said. "Great character, shows the great people we have got and shows we've also got some bloody good cricketers in our team. I am also proud of our staff. Also from where we've come from even from last week, that was a loss that would break a lot of teams, but we weren't. I could feel it during the week. We turned up here and did our job like good sports teams do.

"The group has clearly been through a bit of adversity, some more than others. But the guys sat in that change room have been through what happened at Cape Town and it's times like that you find out what sort of people you have got and you find people who can give up or keep fighting and I think we have got guys who have come back and kept fighting and are wanting to get better and keep wanting to be in situations like we got at Headingley because those games, when you do win, feel very special.

"Headingley's loss make this all the more sweeter after a lot of people wrote us off. There were a few nervous moments there, coming off Headingley but I thought we learnt from that, held our nerve and bowled really well against a team that fought really hard like we knew they would."

Paine's captaincy, the team's fielding and catching, and the bowling of the inexhaustible Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood plus Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon had all stood up far better to the pressure of the moment, leading to a victory that will be both celebrated wildly and recorded as an important moment in Ashes history.

"It's exciting, you are going to see emotion when you get a bunch of people together who have a common goal and have worked so hard for it for a such a long time," Paine said. "This has been two years in the planning so to carry it out over here under pressure and with everything we've had thrown at us ... it's a nice place to play cricket but it is bloody difficult in England, if I am honest.

"I couldn't be more proud of the way our group have handled everything thrown at them. At the end, it was just a bit of raw emotion when you have a little bit of success particularly on the back of last week and the last 18 months. We haven't had a lot of success and not a lot of happy times. But we are beginning to get them and that is awesome.

"My dream was to come here and win an Ashes. I certainly didn't want to be the captain winning the Ashes. It doesn't mean any more or any less to me. I have said a lot of times my part in this team is just one job that many are doing, I just get a lot of the credit, I suppose, but it is something we share around between the players and staff. I am just happy to be a part of it. I could have been working at Kookaburra [in 2017], so this isn't bad."

Among many key moments on the last day was Paine's use of Marnus Labuschagne's wristspin to break a pesky stand between Jack Leach and Craig Overton as the final hour drew near. The subsequent wicket not only set up Hazlewood's final wicket but also underlined how Labuschagne had made a difference to the team.

"Even from when I captained him in Dubai he has been working on his legspin bowling," Paine said. "He came on the trip and bowled a lot in the nets and we said, 'he can bowl'.

"He has bowled a lot of overs in county cricket for Glamorgan, which has helped him. He is improving all the time. He is one of those cricketers if you tell a youngish part-time legspinner to warm up at that part of a Test match, I don't think too many would want to bowl.

"Marnus wanted to bowl. He wants to bat in the games when the best bowlers are on and even in the field, he wants to make a difference all the time. His energy is great and a really exciting cricketer for us and someone we can build our team around in the future."

As for Hazlewood and Cummins, Paine offered the praise of a grateful captain. "They are extremely consistent and that is why they are good," he said. "What I love about those two fast bowlers is that from day one of the series the same effort is coming all of the time. I can't fault them. They run in fast, bowl as hard as they can and for me that is a real weapon to have.

"I am not sure there are a heap of bowlers going around that would get through the workload that our guys are and maintain pace and skill like those two do. Pat is No. 1 in the world and rightly so and Josh has been right up there as well. We're lucky to have them."

Last but far from least, the dominance of Steven Smith with the bat had been the rock on which Australia's Ashes challenge was built, and at one stage the rock on which England's campaign was dashed.

"Anyone who's watched him bat know the talent, hunger and skill that he has got," Paine said. "People don't see how driven he is and how he trains, eats and sleeps batting. He is just a genius and I never had any doubt he would come back and be the player he was. The scary thing is he's getting better. I don't know where it is going to stop but we are enjoying being on the ride, that is for sure."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig