Nothing Amiss with Vaseline episode

India England

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Whether or not the infamous Vaseline incident took the shine off England’s third-Test win at Madras, Dennis Amiss and Bob Willis agree the controversy midway through a 3-1 defeat of India was “unfortunate”.

Tony Greig’s team clinched England’s first Test series triumph in India since the Second World War in the city now called Chennai. However, the hosts were far from happy, believing the ball had been tampered with.

Such was the heat in southern India that England’s bowlers suffered from sweat running into their eyes. To counteract this, touring physiotherapist Bernard Thomas suggested a strip of surgical gauze impregnated with Vaseline be worn across the forehead.

Left-arm seamer John Lever, who took 5-59 as India were dismissed on an uncharacteristically fast wicket for 164 to ensure a first-innings deficit of 98, followed Thomas’ suggestion at lunch on day three. Soon before the end of India’s innings Lever was reported by umpire Judah Reuben, who considered the impregnated gauze to be a breach of Law 46.

John Lever

John Leaver wearing a strip of surgical gauze impregnated with Vaseline like the one that prompted umpire Judah Reuben to report him

Reuban claimed it had come adrift as Lever was bowling but the Marylebone Cricket Club, whose name England were touring under for the last time, explained he had discarded it. MCC manager Ken Barrington said, while there had been a technical breach of the law governing fair and unfair play, the offence was totally unintentional.

At a press conference the next day, the rest day, Greig and Barrington emphasised that the gauze strip was not worn until after lunch, by which time India’s innings was subsiding.

After the close of play on day four, when India were 45 for three in pursuit of 284 to win, the secretary of the Indian Board Ghulam Ahmed said its tour committee could not decide if Lever’s intentions were malicious. However, Barrington said that the home board and India captain Bishan Bedi had accepted that it was not a direct infringement of the laws.

Following England’s 200-run victory, the Test and County Cricket Board (which became the ECB) issued a statement from Lord’s that they were satisfied with the explanation received from Barrington and Greig.

Willis, who took four of his 20 series wickets in the game, told ecb.co.uk: “It was very unfortunate.

“Conditions were extremely hot and Bernard Thomas, the physiotherapist, had this idea of putting Vaseline on the bowlers’ eyebrows - a little like boxing trainers do with their charges to keep the sweat from running into their eyes, with gauze strips.

“There was no skulduggery involved at all; it was just an unfortunate mistake by the physio. I am yet to be convinced that putting Vaseline on a cricket ball actually helped to make it shine that much.”

Amiss, who began the series with a match-defining 179 at Delhi and whose 417 runs were the most in the rubber, told this website: “Bernard was superfluous to knowledge of cricket and all he was trying to do was solve a problem and put some Vaseline on the gauze.

“Of course the Vaseline came off and dropped at the feet of Bishan Bedi and, because the ball was swinging, they thought that the Vaseline might have played a part in it. The ball was sent off for analysis but it came back and it was fine; there was no Vaseline on the ball at all. It was an unfortunate incident.”

Tony Greig

England captain Tony Greig, left, "could see that people were getting on our side," Dennis Amiss said of the India supporters

Despite events at Madras, England were popular with the India fans thanks in part to the antics of batsman Derek Randall.

Amiss said: “We’d actually seen Derek do this in one of the zone matches between the Test matches, walk round the ground and sort of imitate the soldiers walking round the ground with their rifles over their shoulders.

“He would walk behind them, imitating them and the crowd loved it. And Greigy could see that people were getting on our side; they liked us. He started to do this and he did it at Calcutta until we were told to get off the pitch.

“He did it at most grounds but they all quickly cottoned on that it was helping us and getting everybody on our side. And playing so well, whereas some of the decisions had gone against us on the first tour, they started to go for us on this one.”

Such favour meant it was difficult for the players to explore the areas they stayed in because they risked being mobbed. However, their in-hotel entertainment was a far cry from the computer games enjoyed by today’s tourists.

Amiss added: “It wasn’t easy to go out. I mean we were hosted and people looked after us, but it was very difficult to go out because all the supporters would be outside the hotel wanting your autograph. So we didn’t go out apart from being invited occasionally. So what we’d do, we played a lot of charades.

“And it was all well and good playing charades - we’d get the easy ones - but when Mike Brearley and Mike Selvey, both from Cambridge University, started to do Keates poems, that was the end of charades. The rest of us baulked at that and didn’t enjoy it too much, but they thought it was very funny.”

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