Billy Stanlake has rediscovered his aggressive streak. Less than a week after he was carted for 44 in three overs at Edgbaston, Stanlake recorded the most economical completed spell by an Australian in T20Is, with his four wickets coming at a cost of only eight runs. That this was to be Australia’s day became apparent right from the moment the anthems rang out across the ground.
The singing of national anthems is a standard of international sport, but Australia was taken by surprise when the PA system at Harare Sports Club belted out not just one, but two verses of Advance Australia Fair. That’s the sort of thing usually for Australia Day or state funerals. There were some wry smiles, and some fluffed lines, and the jokes continued when the team took the field, with plenty of laughs when the cover fielders set up and then launched into a second verse of “c’mon Billy’s” to complement their first round as Billy Stanlake stood to smile at the end of his run-up.
“[The second verse] took a lot of us by surprise,” Stanlake joked after the game. “We sort of took our arms away from each other and were ready to start going, and then we had to keep singing. Most of us actually hadn’t heard that before. Growing up back home through school it was never played, so it took all of us by surprise.
“I don’t know the words,” he admitted. “There’s a lot of us that have to do a bit of learning. I think there’s only one or two of us who actually knew the words.”
Stanlake’s nickname in the side is ‘Camel’, because of alleged similarities between Stanlake, who at 2.04m is the tallest fast bowler to play for Australia and the camel from a car advert in Australia that sticks its head out of the sunroof of a vehicle because it’s too tall.
But Pakistan would have seen nothing funny in the sight of Stanlake pounding in from the City End of Harare Sports Club to rattle the splices – and find the edges – of their top four. He harried sides in just the same way throughout the Big Bash, and also at times in the T20 triangular featuring England and New Zealand, and the hype around him seems to have been growing ever since. His performance on Monday will only amplify it. Stanlake, on his part, pointed to a renewed focus on aggression as the catalyst for his success.
“The boys have been talking to me in the last few days about being a little more aggressive, so that’s why I came out and tried to do that,” Stanlake said. “In the last game, at Edgbaston, I probably got away from that a little bit, JL [Australia coach Justin Langer] was getting in to me at training the other day about getting a bit more aggressive at our boys in the nets, and he kept reinforcing that, so I really wanted to make an emphasis on that today.”
Langer’s reward for geeing Stanlake up is his very first win as Australia coach and a chance for Australia to start moving beyond their disastrous England tour, where they lost all their six matches across both limited-overs formats.
“England was a challenging tour for all of us, but the key message was doing the simple things well and sticking to our strengths,” Stanlake said. “And I probably got away from that at times during England, so that’s why I came back today just trying to be aggressive with the new ball.”
Beyond the hype built around his menacing height, there have been concerns in the past around Stanlake’s stamina and a history of injuries. He hasn’t played a Sheffield Shield match since 2015, and Cricket Australia pulled him out of a potential stint with Yorkshire so that his workload could be more carefully managed.
His most recent return from injury was nothing more than a broken finger, though, and Stanlake insists that his body is feeling as good as ever. “I’ve come back from a broken finger, so that was nothing major,” he said. “I stayed on my feet throughout that injury. I’m feeling really good at the moment. The body’s feeling good.”
Stanlake was feeling so good today that he completed his opening spell with four overs on the trot – something he doesn’t remember ever doing in T20s before, and something he’d be happy to do again when Australia face Zimbabwe on Tuesday. “I think that was probably the first time I’ve ever done that in T20 cricket,” he said. “I’m happy to do so if that’s what the captain wants. Today, it was because of the early wickets Finchy just kept going with me. If I hadn’t got a wicket, I would have stopped after two and then come back in the middle overs.”
Stanlake might not have learned the second verse of his anthem by the time it is sung again at Tuesday’s game, but he’s hoping his bowling will sing from the same song sheet as it did on Monday.
“I think I’ve probably had faster spells, but it was great to get early wickets and I was backed up by Finchy with a couple of great catches as well,” he said. “There have been times where I have been [both fast and accurate], but it’s been a little inconsistent. The challenge for me is being able to do that game after game.”