Steve Smith has conceded he was mentally exhausted after a stirring Ashes campaign but is ready now to try and help Australia become a "great" team.
Smith's superb year was capped on Monday night when he claimed the Allan Border Medal for second time. He polled the maximum votes in four of the 11 Tests throughout the 12-month voting period, including two through the Ashes where he was named player of the series.
He averaged a stunning 81.56 in Tests over the 12 months, and Australia will look for him to again lead the way in the four Tests against South Africa, beginning March 1 in Durban.
In a bid to have him in prime form, Smith was rested from the ongoing Twenty20 tri-series against New Zealand and England, having struggled through the losing one-day series against England. It's a break he reluctantly admits was needed.
"I certainly feel really good now. It's hard to admit it when you're playing because you don't want to tell yourself these kinds of things, but I was really tired at the back end of those one-dayers," Smith said.
"The way I was batting and where my mind was at compared to a couple of weeks earlier, it was in a completely different place and a place that I didn't entirely enjoy to be perfectly honest. But these last couple of weeks have been really good, just being able to refresh."
Smith was set to return to the nets on Tuesday evening, with the Australian Test squad – bar David Warner, who remains on Twenty20 captaincy duty – to leave for Africa on Thursday.
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Warner's form with the bat has dipped markedly during the short-form formats. He has been given a couple of extra days at home before linking with the T20 squad in Auckland ahead of Friday's clash in Auckland. Smith said the mini-break would help his deputy.
"I think Davey will be in a similar boat. He will have a couple of days off now. His energy has been fantastic right throughout the T20s, he has done terrific job," he said.
In a year when Australia claimed a rare Test victory in India, prevailing by 333 runs in Pune, and thumped England on home soil, Smith pointed to a pair of draws as key moments in the development of his side.
"The two Test matches that stand out most for me were Ranchi, where we were able to block out a draw for a day and keep ourselves in the series at one-all going into the final Test match, and then Melbourne (against England), the same thing," he said.
"You always want to play to win but sometimes it's just not possible, and showing the fight and the determination to get through those moments and show resilience and adapt to different conditions, that's what we're all about. And I think we've made some really big strides in those areas and the team's in a good place at the moment."
Smith contributed 178 and Glenn Maxwell 104 in the first innings in Ranchi when Australia made 451, only for India to respond with 9-603 (dec). Under pressure to survive, the tourists, with Shaun Marsh supplying 53 and Peter Handscomb an unbeaten 72, reached 6-204 to force a draw. The Australians went on to lose the series.
The drawn Melbourne Test came on a lifeless wicket when England opener Alastair Cook posted an unbeaten double century.
Australia's record on the road has been poor for some time and they sit in third spot on the International Cricket Council's rankings. To become a truly feared side, Smith understands winning abroad is imperative, and that needs to begin in South Africa, where the tourists have not lost a Test series in the post-apartheid era.
"We know one series isn't the defining moment of a great team. You need to continually do it. This next challenge in South Africa is going to be a huge one," he said.
That challenge will be without reserve fast bowler Jackson Bird, who has a strained hamstring and has been replaced by South Australian Chadd Sayers.