“Go the mighty Saints!”
A relatively common phrase at Marvel Stadium in winter months, it was yelled at RSEA Park on Monday morning by the most unlikely source: legend Pakistani bowler Wasim Akram.
The ‘Sultan of Swing’, Akram is cricketing royalty, and spent the morning at the Saints to pledge his allegiance to the red, white and black and support the club’s bushfire relief efforts.
Akram signed numerous cricket bats and balls to go up for auction as part of the Saints Bushfire Appeal, with all proceeds providing immediate and subsequent relief aid for those affected by the crisis.
“Australia has been through a lot,” Akram told saints.com.au.
“All of Pakistan was worried as well, and Shane Warne did a great job auctioning his Baggy Green.
“A lot of families have been through a lot and Australia always has been close to my heart, and now it’s my second home.”
After being presented with a St Kilda guernsey by Jake Carlisle, the left-arm legend was quick to don the famous tricolours; never taking it off – or losing his ear-to-ear smile – for the rest of his time at RSEA Park.
But just how the Pakistani great became intertwined with the red, white and black is just about as unlikely as it sounds.
Akram had a vague understanding of Australian Rules when touring for Pakistan during his cricketing days, but became immersed in the sport after meeting his future wife, Shaniera.
And when asking father-in-law, Tony, for Shaniera’s hand in marriage, he had one ultimatum.
“He said, ‘only on one condition: you have to follow St Kilda’,” Akram said.
Since that day almost eight years ago, Akram has followed the mighty Saints all the way from Karachi, Pakistan.
The cricket icon was blown away by RSEA Park’s elite facilities, stopping for a chat with the Saints’ playing group.
"It’s unbelievable, and these guys are supremely fit,” Akram said.
“I’ll be waking up in the early mornings in Pakistan, getting a satellite television especially for these boys’ game, and follow them.”
In the meantime, he’s more than happy to promote Australian Rules and act as an ambassador for the game in his native Pakistan.
“In Pakistan we only play one sport – we don’t even play soccer there – and that’s cricket,” Akram said.
“I believe it’s coming into Pakistan slowly; slowly people are following it.
“But I’m going to follow St Kilda this year, absolutely.”