During England's tour of India in 1976-77, their fast bowler John Lever had an incredible Test in Delhi, taking 7 for 46 and 3 for 24. However, controversy erupted during the third Test in Chennai when it was alleged that Lever was using Vaseline on the ball to help it swing. Tony Greig, the England captain at the time, recalls the incident. Click here to listen to the audio.
My team was touring India, and as result of victories in Delhi and Kolkata we went into the third Test in Chennai, or Madras as it was known then, 2-0 up. And what's more we were in a very positive frame of mind.
As every one knows, Madras is an extremely hot place and it was no exception for this Test - it was very hot indeed. My two fast bowlers, John Lever and Bob Willis, both wore the hairstyles of the day, which were very long. Just after the lunch break on one of the days, I cannot remember exactly which one it was, the bowlers were complaining of salt in their eyes. Obviously, it was partially to do with sweating profusely and to do with the fact that their long hair was hanging on to the liquid and it was getting into their eyes.
In his wisdom, our physiotherapist decided that he should do what marathon runners do, that is put some Vaseline-impregnated gauze into the eyebrows of the bowlers. By doing so, it would channel the sweat down the side of the eye, as opposed to allowing it to go into the eyes. Well, I can tell you that it was a very silly thing to do because under the laws of the game, if you introduce a foreign substance onto the ball it is clearly cheating.
What happened was that John Lever had a habit of taking sweat from him brow, which is perfectly legitimate as long as it is only sweat. However, he did mix the Vaseline-impregnated gauze with some of the sweat on his brow, because he had this habit of going straight across his brow. So, purely by accident, he found himself with a slippery hand and, as a result of that, he decided to get rid of that gauze. He took it off his eyes and put it down at the base of the stumps in front of the umpire. This was picked up by the umpire, who recognised that it was a foreign substance, and of course that's how it got out of control.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was an inadvertent mistake by our physiotherapist and that we weren't, in any way, trying to pull the wool over Bishan Bedi and his team's eyes. In fact, had we been doing that then why would Lever put the gauze down at the base of the stumps?
So that's basically what happened. Bishan Bedi was under a tremendous amount of pressure at that time because the team was 2-0 down, and after that Test match 3-0 down. There was plenty of speculation whether he would hang onto the captaincy. He was, I think, grasping at straws at that time. In any event, the explanation from Kenny Barrington and me, and indeed the response from Lord's got behind my explanation that this was a mistake. I am quite happy to admit right now that it should never have happened, but it did, and there is nothing much we could do about it.