Tayla Vlaeminck is having fun.
It's a simple statement, but those five words mean more to the Bendigo cricket star than you could ever imagine.
It was another chapter to Vlaeminck's injury book which is far more expansive than any 22-year-old athlete should have to endure.
Injury rehabilitation on top of the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a frustrating year for the Strathdale-Maristians product.
After months of hard work she's back on the field for Victoria in the Women's National Cricket League.
While there's still improvement to come after such a long break, Vlaeminck is relishing every minute she gets to spend playing the game she loves.
"I keep catching myself in moments in the field where I'm standing around, looking at the other girls playing for Victoria and I can't wipe the smile off my face. It's a relief to be back out on the park and contributing and having fun,'' she said.
"I've always said that being on the sidelines teaches you to have a lot of patience, but it also teaches you to appreciate the game more when you do play.
"It teaches you to enjoy every moment more and not let the little things like bowling a bad ball get you down too much.
"At the end of the day, I'd rather bowl a bad over than be on the sidelines injured.
"I'm really loving it at the moment. We have such a great group of girls in the Victorian team and they're a lot of fun to play with and travel with."
Vlaeminck has played three games for the Vics, who have started the season with a 5-0 record.
After figures of 0-49 in her return match against NSW, Vlaeminck took 4-15 against the ACT and 1-31 against Tasmania.
Vlaeminck struck with the new ball against ACT and Tasmania which boosted her confidence ahead of this Friday's clash with Queensland at the Junction Oval.
"That's my job in the Victorian team to take early wickets and get us off to a good start, so it's always a relief when you can do that,'' she said.
"It's also nice to know that you're contributing to the success of the team."
The Victorian medical team is taking a cautious approach with Vlaeminck as she builds up to full speed.
"There's been a little bit of an increase from the first couple of club games to the first couple of games for Victoria,'' Vlaeminck said.
"I'm getting more confident with each game, but I still have a little way to go to get back to what I was bowling in the (international) tri-series (before last year's World Cup).
"With more games I'll feel better and I'll get that rhythm back. I'm certainly trying to run in and bowl as fast I can, but I just need those little things to click to get back to my best."
Vlaeminck admitted she was concerned how she'd perform after suffering an injury that could be described as a fast bowler's worst nightmare.
"I was very, very nervous. I was shaking and couldn't breathe very well,'' she said about her feelings before her first club game for Plenty Valley in Premier Cricket.
"It was maybe a mix of nerves and excitement, but once I got the first over out of the way I felt better.
"When I walked off the ground after 50 overs I was a very relieved woman."
The stint with Plenty Valley provided Vlaeminck with the opportunity to bat.
Being part of the star-studded Victorian and Australian teams has limited her opportunities to bat.
Despite batting at number 10 or 11 at the highest level, the right-hander has plenty of ability with willow in hand.
Batting at number five for Plenty Valley, Vlaeminck made 52 off 43 balls against Ringwood.
"It was one of the highlights of my season to be honest,'' she said.
"Through last year I couldn't bowl or field, so I spent a lot of time batting in the nets.
"Tom Evans, our coach down here in Melbourne, spent a lot of time with me on my batting and I spent hour after hour in the nets.
"To get the opportunity to spend some time in the middle and make some runs was pretty cool.
"It's something I haven't done for two or three years, so it was a nice feeling."
While Vlaeminck was pounding the Ringwood bowlers, her batting partner was talented Kangaroo Flat teenager Jasmine Nevins.
The duo added 55 for the fourth wicket.
Vlaeminck said it was special to spend time in the middle with another Bendigo cricket product.
"I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to play with Jazzy,'' Vlaeminck said.
"She has improved so much since the last time I played with Plenty Valley.
"We had a great time together out in the middle. I was trying to tell her that she was the (main) batter out there and that she should be telling me what to do.
"She's been playing some great cricket for Plenty Valley and I feel as though her game has come a long way, particularly her bowling.
"I'm really excited to see what she can do for the rest of the season."
There won't be any more club cricket for Vlaeminck for this summer.
Next Friday she heads over the ditch to New Zealand with the Australian squad for a tour that includes three T20 games and three one-day internationals.
"I'm pretty pumped about it,'' Vlaeminck said.
"It feels as though it's been a long time since I've been away with those girls. I'm very excited to get away with them and I'm excited about getting the chance to go to New Zealand."
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