Tayla Made Tuff | Melbourne Renegades - BBL
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Tayla Made Tuff

14 January 2019

Let’s clear up the big question right from ball one.

“It’s always caused hassles,” laughs Tayla Vlaeminck, as amused by the constant mispronunciation of her surname as she is by pretty much everything.

“Whenever we’re travelling, going into airport lounges, they’re like, ‘Hello Miss Wareham, Hello Miss Whoever, Hello Miss … Tayla.’ They don’t even bother trying. I don’t blame them.”

Climb far enough up the family tree and you’ll be in Belgium, and while she often gets followed on Twitter “by some random Vlaemincks”, the migration happened several generations ago. People have been taking a stab at how to say it ever since.

“I explain that it’s spelt V-L-A-E, but you say V-A-L, then get rid of the N. So it’s VAL-EM-ICK.”

Rest assured, we’ll be hearing her name said in all manner of ways for many years to come.

Having shrugged off two knee reconstructions and a shoulder dislocation in her teens, the 20-year-old from Bendigo has been chalking up “firsts” for fun of late. Her pace disconcerts opponents who could care less about pronunciation, and hope only to zero in on the ball that’s racing towards them before it’s too late.

Younger brother James, a Victorian Country under 19 opening bat, bore the early brunt in the backyard, although Vlaeminck attributes his bruises to erraticism rather than raw speed. “I thought it was quick at the time, but it wasn’t quick. It was just from facing beamers, the worst bowling. I had no idea where they were going.”

A promising soccer player, she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament while in Year 11 when changing direction during the first session of a new season. A year later it collapsed beneath her as she bowled, but she still featured in Victoria’s under 19 national championships victory a couple of months later.

“It didn’t completely tear, the scar tissue just tore apart. I could bowl because that’s a straight line, but if I had to change direction in the field I fell over.”

Geelong footballer Dan Menzel’s website tutorial for ACL victims became compulsory reading, and the box-ticking frustration of her first rehabilitation was replaced by a steely determination second time around. “I went above and beyond, I wasn’t doing that again.”

Back for round one of the 2017-18 Vic Spirit campaign, she dived to stop a ball off her own bowling and dislocated her shoulder. “Wolf (teammate Georgia Wareham) was standing right behind me, it would have gone to her for a dot. She always ribs me about that.”

The setbacks have heightened her appreciation of the heady stream of 2018 highs – selection in the Australian squad that defeated New Zealand in September and October, international debut against Pakistan in Malaysia, World Cup-winning squad member in West Indies in which she played against India in Guyana.

At a trial series on the Gold Coast ahead of the New Zealand matches, she saw herself as no more than an extra net bowler. When an official addressed the group about logistics for the upcoming games, Vlaeminck drifted off. “I was just staring into the distance thinking, ‘This doesn’t apply to me, I’m not sure why I’m here listening.’”

Her long-awaited Renegades debut in WBBL game one this season is a memory as cherished as any. Standing at the top of her mark, pacing on the spot as she visualised what was about to happen, Vlaeminck didn’t dream of four wickets to cap the occasion.

“Even though I’d already played for Australia, to play with these guys and make my debut in front of my family and friends here, it was really cool. Some of the girls were like, ‘It’s going to be like going backwards.’ I was like, ‘Not really, that was what I wanted to do two years straight.’ It was an awesome experience.”