Even before she turned 20, Australian pacer Tayla Vlaeminck had suffered two knee reconstructions and a dislocated shoulder. Yet, she remained one of the fastest bowlers in the world and was seen as a future star for the champion Australian team. If only, she could play for them consistently.
The 21-year-old, who was named the Betty Wilson Young Cricketer of the Year at the Australia Cricket Awards, has been among the most promising talents from her country. Anyone who has seen her bowl will tell you that the raw pace of the ‘Bendigo Bullet’ is the real thing. She is one of the elite few international bowlers who clocks speeds of 120kph-plus in the women’s game.
In the shortest format, she made her debut during the 2018 World T20 but managed just six games before injury struck again. The year 2019 saw her play her first full WBBL season, after injuries affected her in the earlier editions, and she finished with 10 wickets for Hobart hurricanes in 13 matches.
She had not even played a total of 10 T20Is before this year’s ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia but was expected to be a game changer in the star-studded unit that went on to lift the trophy in March. However, the shadow of another injury struck on the eve of the World Cup, clouding Vlaeminck’s nascent career once again.
This time it was stress fractures in her right foot that saw her wear a moonboot on her leg before the tournament. The long break in international cricket due to the coronavirus was supposed to give her more time to heal and regain her full fitness but she suffered another roadblock in her recovery.
According to Cricket Australia, she had recurrence of right ankle pain while working through her rehabilitation and will not be a part of the team for the upcoming limited overs series against New Zealand. What’s worse is that she won’t be able to get back in the Women’s Big Bash League either.
This latest setback would be enough for any 21-year-old to be disheartened but the Australian unit is rallying behind the youngster. With the ODI World Cup postponed to 2021, there is still time for her to fully recover and enter the national team.
Her value in the national set-up is evident from the fact that despite not being in the squad, she was there with the Australian team during the World Cup and as they lifted the trophy, with her teammates even wearing her number on their training jersey.
Australia coach Matthew Mott is himself looking at the big picture when it comes to Vlaeminck. And the 21-year-old has a great example to follow in this regard – that of men’s team pace star Pat Cummins.
“She needs to understand just how highly she is rated by everyone in our set up, and by the selectors.
“We’ve said to her a number of times there’s a lot of parallels between her and someone like Pat Cummins, who had a lot of injuries at the same time and was frustrated and wanted to play more cricket,” Mott was quoted as saying by Cricket Australia.
Cummins also made his debut at 18 and was bogged down by injuries that took a toll on the pacer’s body. He had to wait six years between his first and second Tests but once he recovered and his body adapted to the stress, he has become something of an unstoppable force.
At 27, he has been on the top of the ICC’s Test bowling rankings and is one of Australia’s most prized assets. From an injury liability, he has gone on to become a workhorse for Australia as he played all five Tests during the Ashes summer in 2019.
And Mott, who calls Vlaeminck’s ability “incredible”, believes there’s no reason why she can’t do the same.
“She’s a player we’ll have to manage for at least the next two to three years, just by the nature of her physical profile and her training experience,” Mott said.
“But everyone is united in this. We’ll need to manage her well and build slowly till she gets that resistance and strength over time so she can be a really endurable bowler for Australia over the next 10 years,” he added.
As for lessons to learn from Cummins, patience would be right at the top.
“I think there’s definitely lessons I learned along the way which were only learned by going through it,” Cummins told The Cricket Monthly on his rollercoaster journey. “It took me probably four or five years to start being patient. At the time every tour is the biggest thing in the world at that moment, but you realise, pretty crucially, there’s a tour straight after and straight after.”
Indeed, it was fitting that Vlaeminck received the young cricketer award earlier this year from Cummins. Making their debut for Australia as teenagers, impressing right away with serious pace, and then struggling with injuries: there’s a lot in common between Vleaminck and Cummins, and Australia will hope that both can share a similar comeback journey as well.