Australia's Lyon king of inclusion teams
Star off-spinner left with a 'massive smile' as he gains perspective and ensures cricket is accessible for all Australians
Nineteen-year-old James Amos-Treloar beams broadly as he emerges from Adelaide Oval's pristine practice nets, having faced an over from Australia's greatest-ever off-spin bowler, Nathan Lyon.
With his blue batting helmet (colour of his Special Olympics Adelaide Strikers team) fixed firmly in place, he is greeted by his mother, Vikki, who asks how the right-hander fared against the man who boasts 365 Test wickets.
"I saw you hit him for a six," Vikki says, eliciting a look of immediate surprise from her son.
"Two sixes," James corrects her, matter-of-factly. "Two sixes."
Living with Down syndrome, James Amos-Treloar has confronted far greater challenges than swinging his heavily taped, signature-laden bat at Lyon's gently looping off-breaks.
But the smile that split his face upon meeting, tackling and ultimately dispatching the Test star during this morning's hour long coaching session in Adelaide was replicated by the 30 or more other representatives of South Australia's deaf and intellectual disability teams who partook.
Lyon led the training run through warm-up fielding drills and then batting and bowling skills, partly because of his role as ambassador for Australia's National Inclusion Cricket Championships, but mostly because he genuinely enjoys being in their midst.
The 32-year-old's first formal engagement was at the annual championships held in Geelong three years ago, soon after the Test match against South Africa at Adelaide Oval that saw Matthew Wade recalled as wicketkeeper.
That was also the Test when Wade's repeated exhortation of 'nice Garry', citing Lyon's nickname borrowed from a former AFL footballer, became ear-wormed in the consciousness of cricket watchers all over the country.
When Lyon arrived in Geelong soon after, among the teams taking part in blind, deaf and intellectually disabled competitions during the week-long carnival, he was stunned by the reception he received from 200 or so participants, and the choruses of 'nice Garry' that greeted his every move.
"I felt like Justin Bieber, it was absolutely amazing," Lyon told cricket.com.au today.
"You realise the level of impact you can have, and you're fortunate that you can play a role in people's lives.
"It's amazing how much passion and pride these guys have for the game.
"I walk away from this session, after just an hour today, with a massive smile on my face.
"It's pretty special."
At one stage today, Lyon bowled an over at each of SA deaf team batters Luke Trudgett and Luke Smith, with each delivery accompanied by a rousing 'nice Garry' from the throng of players who crowded into the adjacent net.
But Lyon's passion for, and commitment to ensuring cricket is both accessible and enjoyable for all Australians, including those with a disability, is more than ceremonial.
As Australia's men's Test team convened at Brisbane's Allan Border Field last week to begin their preparations for the current Domain Test Series against Pakistan, Lyon sought out his friend and fellow off-spinner Sean Walsh, who is also a member of the national deaf team.
Walsh was a spectator at the practice session, but asked if he might be enlisted as a net bowler when the team's training relocated to the Gabba next day.
Within an hour, Lyon had arranged for the 22-year-old from Rockhampton to be added to the roster of net bowlers employed to pit themselves against the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner, and even sourced an Australia training shirt for his mate to wear.
"I've known him for a couple of years now, and he contacts me pretty much every second day on Instagram, asking for advice or offering his support which is really nice," Lyon said.
"There's been a really good friendship blossom there.
"He came up and asked me if there was any chance I could get him in to come and bowl to our guys.
"So he came down and bowled to the guys two days out from the first Test, and I think he got Pat Cummins out a couple of times.
"He absolutely loved that."
For all the adulation that Lyon receives when welcomed back into the close-knit fraternity of the inclusion teams, he 's also come to expect some fearless questions and frank feedback.
Today, in the wake of the Brisbane Test where Cummins narrowly escaped having a wicket stripped from him because of a near no-ball and Pakistan's teenage quick Naseem Shah was robbed of his maiden breakthrough for the same oversight, Lyon was pointedly told to keep his front foot behind the crease.
And perhaps to try bowling a bit faster.
When the clinic concluded and the 92-Test veteran fielded questions from the floor, he was quickly skewered as to why he'd chosen to leave South Australia where his first-class career in 2011 to return to New South Wales (for the record, it was family reasons).
"I got some honest feedback, so there's a few things I need to work on," Lyon later reflected.
Likewise, there were a few pearls that flowed from Lyon's quizzing, which the gathered group will look to apply to their respective games before the next National Inclusion Championships get underway at Geelong on January 13.
Josh Waldhuter, a member of South Australia's intellectual disability team, is an all-rounder who aims to emulate Test fast bowler Mitchell Starc, although more through his aggressive left-handed batting than his medium pacers that once netted him 5-7 in a championship match against Tasmania.
Waldhuter faced one delivery from Lyon today, a flighted off-break to which he leaned confidently forward only to have it pierce his defence and clatter into his stumps.
But that experience, coupled with Lyon's subsequent advice to stay patient, think positively and enjoy the game, will remain with him long after he's hung up his batting gloves.
"It drifted, and I thought I got on top of it, but no chance," recalled Waldhuter, who can also claim to have been dismissed by former Test spinner Dan Cullen in an Adelaide club game.
"But it was a pleasure getting bowled by the great 'Garry' Lyon.
"It's incredible … to experience something like this – it's something that bonds you forever.
"My (SA) captain Chris McQueen just said that years from now, when we're not playing cricket and we catch up, we'll say 'remember when we had a session with Nathan Lyon – those were the days, weren’t they'.
"We just love cricket so much."
That view was echoed by Cricket Australia's Community Diversity and Inclusion Manager Adam Cassidy who has borne witness to Lyon's previous engagements at carnivals, and at events where players from deaf, blind or intellectually disabled teams are present.
"The look on everyone's face, the excitement – he (Lyon) has got a real ability to get everyone comfortable and be themselves around him," Cassidy said.
"You could see that from the questions they were asking today – there wasn't any nerves, just pure excitement."
While many of the deaf players, including Sean Walsh, turn out for Premier Cricket and other clubs around the nation, and then come together in state and national competitions, the blind and intellectually disabled players gain most of their opportunities from integrated leagues.
One in five Australians have a disability, so the opportunities for all community members to become meaningfully involved in cricket are a priority for Cricket Australia which is helping clubs to welcome and include players of all skills and abilities.
Clubs that want to provide opportunities for a greater diversity of players but feel they have neither the resources or the expertise are encouraged to contact CA or their state associations to explore the assistance programs available.
"There's not many pockets of Australia now where we couldn't find a club we feel very comfortable putting a player into," Cassidy said of the growth in CA's inclusion programs.
"If you're having any trouble finding a local club, or you've got any sort of nerves about that club's capability to cater for your child, just contact the state association.
"They'll be able to connect you to the area manager in your region, and find a club that's doing wonderful things in that space."
As for the broader cricket community interested in supporting the national inclusion competitions, Cassidy's advice is to get along to a local game or to the national championships in Geelong that run from January 13-25.
"If you walked past a game on a Saturday afternoon, or our national championships in Geelong, the thing you'd notice is simply the quality cricket being played," he said.
"You wouldn’t notice anything different to any other competition.
"That's what's wonderful about it, and that's a reality that perhaps a lot of people miss."
The passion and enthusiasm that engulfed Nathan Lyon when he first attended the national championships might have left him awestruck, but in so many ways the blind, deaf and intellectually disabled players he champions are no different to those he's played alongside at state and international level.
Especially those whose exploits become greater and grander in retirement, and whose tales are embellished with each retelling of their career highlights.
As James Amos-Treloar packed his gear bag and departed the practice nets for home, he paused to bid farewell to his mentor and mate 'Garry', who congratulated the teenager on clubbing him for two sixes in the over they shared.
"Three sixes," James countered, without missing a beat.