CommBank T20 Series v NZ
Vlaeminck 'has skills we've been craving'
It's been a tough road for teenage quick Tayla Vlaeminck, but she might be just the bowler Australia is searching for
Laura Jolly is a Melbourne-based journalist for cricket.com.au. She previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
Teenage fast bowler Tayla Vlaeminck possesses weapons Australia have "been craving for a while", coach Matthew Mott says, and the Victorian could prove the missing piece of the puzzle as his team seeks Women's World T20 glory.
Vlaeminck, 19, has already suffered more serious injuries than some players suffer throughout their entire careers, but now the Melbourne Renegades product is fit, firing and ready to take on New Zealand if handed an international debut in the three-match Commonwealth Bank T20 International series beginning September 29.
Australia boast the swing of Megan Schutt and the experience of Ellyse Perry in their pace arsenal, but have been hunting for a player with out-and-out pace - an answer to New Zealand's Lea Tahuhu and South Africa's Shabnim Ismail.
And in Vlaeminck, Mott hopes they may have found the answer.
"Tayla’s had her share of injuries but she’s a player we’ve kept a good eye on for a couple of years," Mott told cricket.com.au following Wednesday's announcement of Australia's 13-player squad to meet the White Ferns.
"We wanted someone who had a point of difference, she rips in and bowls fast and she looks to hit the wicket.
"She bowls a good bouncer and has a lot of the skills we’ve been craving for a while.
"She's young, but we kept saying if she's good enough, she's old enough.
"She’ll come in with a lot of confidence."
Congrats to all the players selected in the T20 squad today, including two young guns Tayla Vlaeminck and Georgia Wareham! #WATCHME pic.twitter.com/uZWCVhnsL6— Australian Women's Cricket Team 🏏 (@SouthernStars) September 11, 2018
Her time in the recovery ward - Vlaeminck suffered two knee reconstructions and a dislocated shoulder in the space of less than three years - means the teenager from Bendigo hasn't even made her Rebel WBBL debut for the Renegades.
But her standout performances on Australia's Under-19 tour of South Africa in April helped her put forward a case, while eight weeks training with the National Performance Squad in Brisbane through the winter convinced selectors she was ready to step up to the next level.
That tour of South Africa marked a change in fortune for the Victorian - but she almost didn't make the trip.
In March, one month out from that tour, Vlaeminck was once again staring down the barrel of a major setback.
Diagnosed with glandular fever and consigned to bed rest, she could see her first overseas tour slowly slipping away.
Then, finally, her luck did change.
Vlaeminck recovered enough to take her place on the tour and headed to South Africa in high spirits – but with realistic expectations, given her limited preparation.
"It wasn’t the ideal preparation, I had four weeks of bed rest before I left," Vlaeminck explained to cricket.com.au earlier this year.
"We had a few training sessions in Brisbane before we left and I was making it through four balls before I needed a to have a little break.
"It wasn’t looking great at times, but they managed me really well over there and let me take it easy for the first couple of weeks so I could build into it."
Her first two matches of the tour in April yielded two wickets from nine overs with the ball.
And as her strength built, her pace and outswing were employed to perfection by Under-19s ODI skipper Rachel Trenaman.
In 6.5 overs against South Africa in Pretoria, Vlaeminck captured 5-32. Then, in the series final against the same opponent, she captured 6-27 in 7.5 overs in a match-winning display.
"It was good to finally get some reward for the hard work I’ve been doing," Vlaeminck said.
"I started off a bit slow and built into it."
Those figures make it easy to see why the teenager is so highly rated by Australian coaches, including high performance coach Leah Poulton, who was in charge of the Under-19s team.
"She didn’t have much bowling under her belt going into that South Africa series and it had got to the point where we almost thought she shouldn’t go as her loads might not be high enough to have an impact," Poulton recalled.
"But she scraped in at the last minute and found her way on the plane. We used her in short, sharp spells and she had a really big impact for us."
Vlaeminck’s debut Women’s National Cricket League match for Victoria last October was a long time coming. More than 700 days of recovery and rehabilitation, in fact.
A talented young sportswoman from Bendigo who combined cricket with soccer, Vlaeminck had barely played an official match when she was selected for the Victorian Under-14 cricket team. Soon, she was selected in the Under-18s.
But in early 2015, disaster struck when she ruptured her ACL.
Cruelly, it was the first of two ACL ruptures she would have to endure. After going through the full recovery and rehabilitation for the initial injury, it took just two matches for the same knee to fail her, this time while bowling.
Second time around it was a partial tear, meaning Vlaeminck played on for another two months while waiting for the ligament to fully give way so she could undergo a second reconstruction. Incredibly, she played Under-18s for Victoria while carrying the injury.
"It was probably a little bit more frustrating (than the first) in the sense that it wasn’t completely done," Vlaeminck explained in an interview with bigbash.com.au earlier this year.
"I went to a surgeon, who told me basically just to keep playing and he gave me one or two months before it went again, and then to call him and have another surgery.
"I played Under-18s that year with it pretty much completely done – I think I had 10 rolls of tape on it at one point. So it was pretty much just a waiting game.
"It was kind of good in the sense that, once I’d done it, I knew how to approach it and what had to happen and the process. It was more just frustrating (with) the time out of the game."
Her talent and resilience had not gone unnoticed, with Vlaeminck signed by the Renegades even while on the comeback trail, with her first season in red was largely spent carrying drinks and soaking up as much as she could while recovering.
She finally made her triumphant return during Victoria’s opening WNCL match against the ACT Meteors last October, while she also represented a CA XI in an Ashes tour match against England.
But just when it looked like the teenager was finally back on track, her 2017-18 summer was cast in doubt when she dislocated her shoulder playing for Victoria in late November.
It meant Vlaeminck missed out on playing in her first Rebel WBBL match, but she did return for the final two matches of Victoria’s WNCL campaign and crucially, put her hand up for the tour of South Africa.
"Last season was my first actual crack at it, I suppose," Vlaeminck reflected.
"I started the preseason without an injury, which was a first, and then I got to play a couple of WNCL games which was awesome.
"Then to finish off (with the Under-19s tour) like that, to play most games and play a role, that was really awesome."
Vlaeminck has spent the winter working hard to write a script for her future that involves far more time on the field and far less in the injury ward, focusing on developing a stronger and more resilient body through the winter.
That’s where the National Performance Squad came in. Now in its second year, the expanded NPS program meant Vlaeminck - leg-spinner Georgia Wareham, the other newcomer to the Australian squad - spent a combined eight weeks of the winter at Brisbane’s National Cricket Centre, working under Poulton and Australia assistant coach Shelley Nitschke.
An added bonus of the program was the presence of Australian players including national captain Meg Lanning, vice-captain Rachael Haynes and spearhead Megan Schutt, who have been spending large chunks of their own pre-seasons in Brisbane.
And, as Mott explained on Wednesday following Vlaeminck's call-up, that time working alongside the most influential voices in the national team may just have helped swing things in the young quick's favour.
"The NPS is a great program. One of the things for (Vlaeminck and Wareham) in particular was that both Meg Lanning and Rachael Haynes spent a lot of time in the program training with them," Mott said.
"That gave us the confidence to be able to select them, first and foremost, and to watch them and get excited about the skills they bring but even more is their maturity.
"They’re just cricketers who love competing, the way they chase the ball to the boundary and their athleticism."
A version of this story was originally published last month when Vlaeminck was training with the National Performance Squad in Brisbane.
CommBank T20 INTLs v NZ
September 29: First T20I, North Sydney Oval, Sydney
October 1: Second T20I, Allan Border Field, Brisbane
October 5: Third T20I, Manuka Oval, Canberra