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Billy Stanlake uses IPL downtime to level up

Billy Stanlake celebrates Rohit Sharma's wicket BCCI

Billy Stanlake should be restless. He was not a part of Australia's World Cup 15 announced earlier this week. He has lost his annual contract with Cricket Australia and, currently with Sunrisers Hyderabad, who recruited him last year, Stanlake has played just four IPL matches - none of them this season.

But the six-foot-eight Queenslander, who former Australian captain Ricky Ponting has lavishly praised for having the ability to finish among all-time great fast bowlers, is anything but restless. Instead, he is happy to keep himself motivated by doing his gym routines and bowling in the nets.

Stanlake came to the fore with his performances in the Big Bash League for Adelaide Strikers, for whom he took 19 wickets in 17 matches through his first three seasons, a period during which he was picked in the Australian ODI squad.

"Once I wasn't a part of the Australian squad that toured over here [India] a couple of months ago, I sort of knew that I was probably out of contention for the World Cup." Billy Stanlake

However, he hasn't had an ideal last 12 months or so, with ODI chances drying up, a difficult BBL season, where he took 11 wickets at an economy rate of 9.07, and, most recently, the loss of his central contract.

It hasn't helped that batsmen might have figured out how to deal with his unique trajectory.

"Yeah, obviously they probably know I'm coming to bowl that hard length at good pace. It's something over the last 12 months that I've worked on, is my change-ups. Put a lot of work into it and it's starting to come out quite well now," Stanlake told ESPNcricinfo in Hyderabad. "Some of them I've used in international cricket last year, which I seemed to have success with. I think it's about staying ahead. It's about being able to use it every now and then and keep the batsmen guessing."

A dimension of having his unusual release points and trajectory is that the change-ups can also be different from those who bowl conventional lengths. Almost every fast bowler in the Sunrisers camp has a knuckle ball, something Stanlake confessed to not having figured out. The change-ups, in his case, have been more old-fashioned and understated.

"It's just a subtle change of pace. It doesn't need to be too drastic," he explained. "Just whether it be a legcutter to a right-handed batsman so you get the ball going away, of the offcutter to a left-handed batsman. I have tried to take the ball away from the batsman."

But having access to someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has built his limited-overs reputation on being effective both with the new ball and at the death, has had some benefits for Stanlake. Having rediscovered his aggressive streak while on tour in Zimbabwe last year, Stanlake has learnt about the mental aspect of sustaining that aggression through the game from Bhuvneshwar.

"I think Bhuvi is sort of a great example for someone who hits his length in the Powerplay. He's really one of the best going around at hitting his good length," Stanlake said. "Sometimes you can fall into the trap bowling with the new ball - if you're hit for a boundary - of going away and getting too defensive and trying to hit that yorker. That's when you start to lose your rhythm and start leaking runs.

"It's definitely happened [to me] before. Sometimes you can get defensive too quickly, which sometimes is the best thing for the batter. It's about realising whether it was a good ball or a bad ball. If you get hit for a boundary off a good ball, you can accept that. It's about going back to the mark and executing the good ball again, because most times if you're executing good balls and they're taking the risk to hit that good ball for a boundary, you're going to create opportunities. So it's about summing up whether it was a good ball or bad ball quickly, and not getting too defensive early."

A persistent attacking length is something Stanlake has been able to work on recently, having played in two - of his four - Shield games for Queensland in March. Having made his first-class debut in 2015, the going has been somewhat slow on that front for Stanlake, whose budding career has been stop-start so far with injuries.

Stanlake said that he hadn't expected a World Cup call-up anyway, and having reconciled with that, is now back on track for his biggest long-term goal: staying fit.

"Look, no, I wasn't surprised," Stanlake said of the World Cup selection. "I saw it coming. Once I wasn't a part of the Australian squad that toured over here [India] a couple of months ago, I sort of knew that I was probably out of contention for the World Cup. Obviously it was disappointing, I would have loved to be part of the World Cup squad. Just got to get back to being better, there isn't much I can do.

"Always a goal in mind is to stay fit. [I] just sort of got back to playing a bit of red-ball cricket back home, so hopefully this year I can play more of that again. And obviously I'd love to get back into that Australian side."