Fortune finally favouring young quick
Tayla Vlaeminck's already had her fair share of injury woes, but the Victorian and Renegades fast bowler is hoping to change the script this summer
16 August 2018, 09:06 AM AEST
Oh no. Not again. Surely not.
At just 19 years of age, up-and-coming Victoria quick Tayla Vlaeminck had already suffered – and recovered – from two knee reconstructions and a dislocated shoulder, all in the space of less than three years.
Then in March, one month out from Australia’s Under-19 tour of South Africa, Vlaeminck again found herself staring down the barrel of a major set-back.
Diagnosed with glandular fever and consigned to bed rest, Vlaeminck could see her first overseas tour slowly slipping away.
But 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.
"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. Vlaeminck is a member of the National Performance Squad, where she’s training under high performance coach Leah Poulton, who was also 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 is now 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.
"I’ve been flagged as needing to get a little stronger, which will hopefully prevent further injuries," she said.
"So that’s main goal this preseason. I’ll be working on my bowling and batting as well, but I’ve just got to get stronger and hopefully quicker."
That’s where the National Performance Squad comes in. Now in its second year, the expanded NPS program means Vlaeminck is spending a combined eight weeks of the winter at Brisbane’s National Cricket Centre, working under Poulton and Australia assistant coach Shelley Nitschke.
It’s a program made up of three blocks – the first heavily focused on strength and fitness – and she’s in good company alongside seven of the country’s best other young fast bowlers, who make up the bulk of the NPS group.
"They’re all really good girls," Vlaeminck said. "I'm sure it’ll get quite competitive in the nets out there, but we’re having a great time so far."
An added bonus of the program to date has been 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.
"Meg’s been awesome at the NCC, coaching us and helping us get better technically," she said.
"It’s been so good to learn off them all. I’m hoping to tap into their minds once we get into the skills block of the program. They’ve all got heaps of international experience, so it will be awesome to tap into that."
Commonwealth Bank T20I series 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
Commonwealth Bank ODI series v NZ
February 22: First ODI, WACA Ground, Perth
February 24: Second ODI, Karen Rolton Oval, Adelaide
March 3: Third ODI, Junction Oval, Melbourne