Joe Root hailed his ‘freakish’ all-rounder Ben Stokes after his innings of a lifetime helped England square the Ashes in astonishing fashion at Headingley.
Stokes made a remarkable unbeaten 135 as they chased down 359 to beat Australia by one wicket, with No 11 Jack Leach contributing one not out to a last-wicket stand of 76.
‘That was just ridiculous, wasn’t it?’ said Root, who was almost speechless as he tried to digest a victory that leaves the sides poised at 1-1 going into next week’s fourth Test in Manchester.
Joe Root hugs Ben Stokes after all-rounder helped England beat Australia in third Ashes Test
‘For us now to be sat here, very much in this series, having been potentially one run away from being out of it, is an amazing feeling. We’ll hold on to it, for sure.
‘To be 67 all out and win a game of cricket! It took a heroic, freakish effort from Ben to get us over the line. He’s the ultimate team man. That’s why he’s a brilliant vice-captain. He drags people with him.’
Stokes said the feeling he experienced after slapping Pat Cummins for the winning boundary through the covers was similar to England’s World Cup triumph six weeks earlier at Lord’s.
‘It’s certainly close,’ he said. ‘Walking off there at the end, when the whole of Headingley was standing up and celebrating, was a very special moment.
Stokes produced one of the all-time great Ashes innings by hitting 135 not out in victory
‘You had to try to take it in, because moments like that don’t come along very often. It was an amazing game to be a part of, and we’ve kept our Ashes hopes alive.’
Stokes also paid tribute to Leach, who blocked 16 balls before scurrying a single off Cummins to level the scores.
The winning blow came from the next delivery, bringing a capacity crowd to its feet, and Stokes and Leach together in an incredulous embrace, as the Australians stood around wondering how on earth they had lost the game.
‘The only time I started to get a bit nervous and panicking was when we got it down to single figures,’ said Stokes.
‘They’ll be the most important balls Jack Leach will ever face in his Test career, the best one not out he’ll ever get. It takes two to tango. For the No 11 to come out under that kind of pressure was fantastic.’
England’s No 11 Jack Leach (left) stayed with Stokes and scored one to see his country to win
Stokes revealed that the diet of a match-winner consisted, the night before, of a bowl of pasta in his boxer shorts, a ‘knock-off Nando’s’ and a couple of biscuit-and-raisin Yorkie bars.
And he could afford a chuckle at the moment Leach should have been run out by Nathan Lyon with England still two from victory.
‘I think Jack Leach must have been watching Monty Panesar,’ he said. ‘I could not believe it: I looked up, and he was so close to me that we could have had a conversation.
‘He said: ‘I thought you started running.’ I said: ‘Mate, I was nowhere near running.’ That was huge panic stations, because he was so far out.
‘But pressure situations can affect what a human does. Nine times out of 10, Nathan Lyon would have picked the ball up and taken the stumps off and Australia win.’
Earlier, Stokes had been at fault over the run-out of Jos Buttler, leaving England 253 for six and all but out of contention.
Jos Buttler had earlier been run out after a miscommunication with Stokes at just 253 for six
Root said: ‘To go through that run-out with Jos, and what seemed to be such a crucial moment in the game, to put that behind him and still think as clearly as he did under pressure, was huge for our chances of winning the series. I’m going to struggle to put into words, and I will for a long time now.
‘We were very poor in the first innings, and we weren’t anywhere near where we want to be or expect to be. In a slightly strange way, that’s a positive because we can be better.
‘We found a lot of pride to get back into this game. It shows how much Ashes cricket means to every single one of those guys, and we have to take that forward into Manchester.’
Asked how his team would celebrate the victory, Root said: ‘We know we’ve got be in by 12, and make sure we don’t give you anything else to write about other than this game.
‘But we have to make sure we enjoy one of Test history’s finest games of cricket. It had everything, didn’t it?’