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Clarke's men must get mind right to regain Ashes, says Smith

GRAEME SMITH believes England will start deserved favourites against Australia in next winter's Ashes, having led his team to series wins in both countries in the past three months and undisputed No.1 status.

South Africa, with a 1-0 series victory wrapped up by their 309-run defeat of Australia at the WACA Ground, have opened up a six-point lead at the top of the ICC Test rating, the largest gap established by a leader of the world rankings in four years.

They have not lost a series on the road in six years and with a 2-0 success in England followed by back-to-back series wins here, there can be little doubt about their dominance. They have remained undefeated in nine consecutive Tests away from home this year, and have not lost overseas since Kolkata in 2010.

''This series was going to be the opportunity for us to maybe lengthen that gap or create that legacy. It's nice to go home with a six-point gap,'' said Smith, the Proteas captain.

''This is the performance that I've got used to from our guys over the years. For us it certainly means the world. There are people involved in our set-up that have taken many beatings on tours of Australia.

''We know what is required to come here and be victorious. To have done it twice it's always difficult to put into words. But when we get on that plane tomorrow night we'll certainly have a warm feeling that we've been part of something really incredible and special.''


Having conquered the world's second- and third-ranked teams on their own turf this year, Smith believes England are better placed to retain the Ashes against Australia next year. ''I think the challenge for Australia is going to be winning in England,'' Smith said. ''I think they do play well in their own conditions. They know how to win there, and being able to adapt and play well in England is going to be Australia's challenge.

''They certainly have the players so from a mindset point of view that's going to be the challenge. Being a home series for England, I'd probably have to say that they'll be favourites.''

Hashim Amla was named man of the match in Perth for his match-turning 196 but Smith said their match-saving heroics on the final day in Adelaide last week, led by debutant Faf du Plessis, could not be forgotten.

''A lot has been said and written about that effort, and I don't think it's appreciated when you come to days like today and see us taking 10 wickets in a day,'' he said. ''I think days like Adelaide certainly mean a lot more.''

On his decision to lead his team in forming a guard of honour on the WACA Ground as the retiring Ricky Ponting walked out for the final time on Monday, Smith said: ''He's certainly the player that I respect most that I've played against as an opponent. It was just a sign of respect from us to someone who has given the game of cricket so much.''

Earlier on Monday, Shane Warne led the tributes. The great leg spinner finished his international career on the ultimate high of a 5-0 Ashes victory when most felt he could have kept going. There was no such fairytale for Ponting, but Warne was pleased that a fellow champion was able to make the call himself.

''As far as his skill goes, as a batsman he's one of the top few Australian batsmen ever, and he'll be well regarded worldwide. He's going to be missed,'' he said. ''I suppose it's great he didn't have to get put in any position [to be dropped] … When you have one of the great players it's always nice when he goes out on his terms. He went out on his terms today, and that's really nice that he had that chance.''