Alastair Cook has successfully passed the greatest test any England captain can face even if it has come at the expense of his own form, says Andrew Strauss.
Cook, 28, followed in the footsteps of two-time Ashes winning skipper Strauss by leading England to a successful defence of the urn, completed with a 74-run victory at Durham.
The result puts the hosts 3-0 up with just next week's fifth and final Test at the Oval to come before this winter's return series Down Under, where Cook excelled by scoring 766 runs in seven innings at an average of 127.66 in 2010/11.
Runs have been rather harder to come by this summer with the Essex opener scoring just 218 runs in eight innings at an average of 27.25 - a tally that includes a half-century at Emirates Durham ICG.
However, Strauss said that Cook has made up for that shortfall by showing strong leadership on the pitch.
"He hasn't been quite at his best with the bat and it certainly looked like a huge burden had been taken off him [after England won the Ashes]," reflected Strauss.
"During an Ashes series as an England captain you live and breathe every moment - the scrutiny is much higher than in any other series and this is the first time that Alastair has gone through it, so he'll be better for the experience.
"I think what he's done really well is that when it really came to the crunch at Trent Bridge in the first Test and on the final afternoon at Durham he remained really calm and he was able to direct the bowlers to do exactly the right thing.
"So you can talk about [the importance of setting] inventive fields but the most important thing is to make sure that the players know that you are in control of events when you are under pressure and I think that he did that exceptionally well."
Cook's opposite number Michael Clarke must now lift his side again for next week's final Test at Kennington to improve a run of just two wins in the latest 14 Ashes contests.
Clarke, 32, is averaging almost 50 in the series after scoring 346 runs, including a magnificent 187 at Old Trafford but Strauss says the Australian skipper will have to dig deeper still if he is to inspire his side to a much-needed win.
"Durham will have been a really bitter pill for him to swallow," said Strauss. "There have been some green shoots of recovery but they've been stamped on again every time.
"Winning is a habit and so is losing and Australia have lost seven out of their last eight Test matches now.
"There have been some really good performances from Australia but it really shows how far Australia has fallen. There was talk about 'plucky performances' rather than them going out and winning games.
"So Michael Clarke has got a lot of questions that he needs to answer - certainly selection wise - and I suppose more than anything he's got to lead from the front and score more runs in the fifth Test."
For more fourth Test reaction from Shane Warne, Nasser Hussain and the Ashes Panel simply click here. Watch the fifth and final Ashes Test on Sky Sports Ashes from 10am on Wednesday 21st August and on the Ashes Events Centre, available via the Sky Sports App.