Like Australian superstar Mitchell Starc, towering paceman Billy Stanlake is a truly rare cricketing commodity.
At 204cm, Australia’s latest ODI player is the tallest paceman ever to play for Australia, eclipsing the likes of former ODI cricketer Brett Dorey (203cm), one-Test-wonder Peter George (203cm), supremely gifted left-armer Bruce Reid (203cm), and Western Australia champion Jo Angel (200cm).
Stanlake has one major advantage over all those fellow two-metre beanpoles – he has express pace.
Dorey relied on lovely outswing, George was a back-of-a-length seamer, Reid exploited his angle across right handers, and Angel unsettled batsmen with his steepling bounce.
But none of them were capable of consistently operating well above 140kmh, so they lacked the intimidation factor owned by Stanlake, who can hit 150kmh and has been regularly exceeding 145kmh in the Big Bash League.
Most of the two-metre-plus quicks we’ve seen in international cricket did not have worrying pace.
West Indian legend Joel Garner (203cm) had a lethal bouncer and an even better yorker, but didn’t have the same scorching speed as contemporaries Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts or Jeff Thomson.
England giants Boyd Rankin (203cm), Chris Tremlett (201cm) and Steven Finn (201cm) have toured Australia as part of the past two Ashes. Rankin and Tremlett operated mainly in the mid-to-high 130kmh range. Finn had startling pace early in his career, but lost it as a result of tinkering with his approach, and these days he is merely sharp, rather than express, except for the odd day when everything clicks and he sits in the mid-140s.
West Indian captain Jason Holder (201cm) is gentle in pace despite his soaring frame, often operating in the low-130s.
The only bowler who has the same terrifying combination of extreme height and raw pace as Stanlake is the man who was just withdrawn from the upcoming ODI series – Pakistan’s 216cm freak Mohammad Irfan. Like Stanlake, Irfan can nudge 150kmh. He is even more unusual than the Australian due to his truly incredible height and left-arm angle.
Unlike Stanlake, 34-year-old Irfan came to cricket very late. He was already 27 years old when he played his first professional game. Stanlake had only just turned 21 when he earned his first-class debut for Queensland and now is about to enter international cricket aged just 22.
The last time a bowler with such unique attributes debuted for Australia was back in 2010, when Starc played his first ODI in India. Starc has used his rare skills to become the world’s best limited-overs bowler and among the elite players in the Test format.
When Starc arrived on the domestic scene, he showed himself to be a one-of-a-kind – there was no other bowler like him in world cricket. A 196cm left-armer who was a natural swing bowler at up to 150kmh. It was a freakish package.
The closest bowler in style to Starc was Mitchell Johnson, yet Johnson was significantly shorter and had a much lower, slingier action, which did not allow the consistent swing or sharp lift the younger man earned.
Stanlake is fortunate enough to have a similar shock factor to Starc.
As his Queensland colleague and soon-to-be ODI teammate Usman Khawaja explained this week, Stanlake’s bowling is “very ugly to face”.
“He’s a tall bloke, bowls fast, hits the bat hard and he’s very ugly to face,” Khawaja told the media.
“The selectors think he’s ready and I’m sure that he is and if he gets a chance he’ll do really well. He’s very tall and very fast, and that’s two commodities you don’t get together a lot of times. Either you bowl fast and you’re not as tall, or you’re tall and you’re not as fast. But he can do both which is quite impressive.”
The element of surprise Stanlake possesses thanks to his height and pace will only take him so far, of course. Batsmen will grow more accustomed to his unusual release point and sharp bounce. He’ll need other skills to consistently trouble international batsmen.
Stanlake has shown though, that he doesn’t rely on his speed and lift. He’s not a Shaun Tait-style spray-and-pray express quick. In all three formats, Stanlake has display impressive accuracy and the nous to vary his angles on the crease.
He is, of course, still extremely green, having played just two first-class matches (seven wickets at 21), four List A matches (seven wickets at 25) and seven T20s (eight wickets at 23). His enormous frame will also likely make him more susceptible to injury, particularly at this age while his body is still filling out.
Australia have such a quality battery of ODI quicks – Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, James Faulkner and John Hastings – that Stanlake is unlikely to become a regular in the team at this stage. Big Billy will, however, add some genuine excitement and intrigue to the five-match series against Pakistan starting tomorrow.