Big Billy becoming a star – the fast way

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CRICKET FANS enjoy nothing more than the sight of a new fast bowler who can put the frighteners on the opposition, especially the Poms – and Australia might have found one. Chief writer RON REED and Sportshounds cricket expert IAN CALLEN report:

BIG BILLY STANLAKE has made his peace with Australia’s most discerning cricket fans, the MCG mob. The beanstalk fast bowler terrorised England in Saturday night’s T20 encounter, the final international match of the Australian summer, taking 2-28 off four overs delivered at a pace constantly around 150kph, which is about as fast as anybody bowls these days. He put three balls in a row past top order bat Dawid Malan before he could take proper aim.

It wasn’t the only reason Australia won by the ridiculously one-sided margin of seven wickets with more than five overs to spare but it certainly helped set the tone. The 23-year-old Queenslander has been one of the stars of the three-way T20 series, which will now continue to a climax in New Zealand, also wrecking the Kiwis in Sydney, where he took 3-15. England got to him a bit in Hobart, where he was expensive – 1-43 – and his two 50 over internationals, both against Pakistan last year, have also been unremarkable, with a combined return of 1-68. But there is no denying that he is an exciting prospect, although very much a work in progress.

He made his T20 international debut at the G almost a year ago to the day, against Sri Lanka, and it wasn’t particularly impressive, figures of 0-42 including five boundaries and a six, plus four wides, as Australia lost off the last ball. It was a very different story this time around as a crowd of nearly 50,000 loved what they were seeing from the rangy rookie.

Billy Stanlake in action against England at the MCG. Pic: Morgan Hancock/Action Plus via Getty Images
Billy Stanlake in action against England at the MCG. Pic: Morgan Hancock/Action Plus via Getty Images

He is now just about an established “name” at T20 level, having enjoyed a very successful Big Bash season with the Adelaide Strikers and been snapped up for the Indian Premier League by the Sunrisers Hyderabad for $97,000, which probably makes him a bargain buy. If the auction had been delayed for a week or two he might be an even richer young man now.

The most interesting question is whether he can go all the way and play Test cricket. Given that he has played only two Sheffield Shield matches, the answer to that is probably some distance away. And yet, there was an intriguing element to the timing of his explosive performance on Saturday night. Hours earlier, the reserve fast bowler for the forthcoming tour of South Africa, Jackson Bird, injured his hamstring playing for Tasmania and is now a doubtful starter for the heavy-duty campaign. The most obvious candidate to replace him is the prolific South Australian fast-medium Chadd Sayers, who has been on the fringe of the Test side a couple of times without quite getting a baggy green cap. But when Sayers queried his omission from the tour with chief selector Trevor Hohns he was apparently told they wanted faster bowlers than him, which was a strange response given Bird laboured through the MCG Test barely bowling above a pedestrian 130kph and was still retained. If pace and more pace is what they truly want – and it is certainly a valuable weapon in South Africa, or anywhere for that matter – then perhaps there is a case for making Stanlake a left-field selection. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen, though.  In any case the uncapped Jhye Richardson is already in the touring party and presumably the next cab off the rank if a Test spot opens up.

Stanlake, from the Gold Coast, is 204cm, the tallest fast bowler ever to play for Australia at any level, and uses his height well with a strong, rhythmical action that gives him both swing and bounce.

Stanlake, whose father Warren played one AFL game with Western Bulldogs in 1981, was already as big as he is now by the age of 16 and it is no surprise that his body, especially his back, has struggled to cope with the demands of fast bowling. In his first Shield game, against South Australia, he took six wickets, including some handy names in Travis Head, Mark Cosgrove and Callum Ferguson. But there is no certainty he will add to those games for the rest of this summer.

Sportshounds cricket expert Ian Callen, himself a former international fast bowler, says there are no limits to what Stanlake could achieve – at a realistic rate. He writes:

“Who wouldn’t be impressed with Billy Stanlake? He has everything a fast bowler wants. He is over two metres tall, he gets into perfect side-on position with a high front arm that triggers momentum and weight transfer into each delivery. Add those long in-synch levers to the equation and you have some-one who can smoke them. What a great prospect he is.

“However, four overs in a T20 is a far cry from the constant demands of first class cricket, let alone the Test arena, and therefore it would be one almighty gamble to risk him in South Africa. Billy needs to prove himself in the longer format because Australia cannot afford to be a bowler down when the going is tough. We will need a workhorse in South Africa, someone to hold up an end for the other three quicks and Nathan Lyon if another pace bowler is needed for any reason. Someone who will be willing to work hard in partnership. He’ll need to bowl into the wind, bowl long spells and give nothing away on the scoreboard. Sayers is the man and he should have been tried long before now in my opinion.

“A bowler in T20 is facing a clutch situation every over, every ball. To succeed under pressure like that you are one mentally tough competitor, and Stanlake is doing so. So, there is no reason why he cannot prove himself at all levels especially when you think of the type of help he has at his fingertips.”

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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