Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni last played competitive cricket in July 2019, in India’s World Cup semi-final ouster. He has retired from international cricket since and will take charge of his IPL franchise after 14 months of inactivity. On the eve of the IPL opener, Stephen Fleming quickly quashed any doubts over Dhoni’s fitness or training methods, and reckoned the skipper was ‘fresh and ready to go’.
“It [Dhoni’s training methods] has been no different,” Fleming told CSK’s official website. “He’s very fit and mentally he’s been very engaged and determined. In some ways, the break can work for the experienced and older players that we have. MS is fresh and ready to go.”
CSK was one of the earliest teams to get together for training, and the only one to hold a camp before their departure to UAE. In fact, the three-time champions had even wanted to reach the venue well ahead of schedule in order to get rid of any rustiness that would’ve set into their players owing to the lockdown situation that has been the case since March. They arrived on August 20 – 30 days ahead of their first game but ran into roadblocks. Their pre-season was hampered to a big extent by positive COVID-19 cases within their camp and delayed the start of their nets sessions. Fleming admitted that the players were understandably anxious, but praised them for their calm approach as the events of the last two weeks transpired.
“We didn’t get off to a great start, with some positive Covid-19 cases, but I think we dealt with it very well. We were calm around our approach, looked after the players and staff very well, and the rest of the players were calm in the hotel room. There was a bit of anxiety wanting to get out and train. It is what it is, and the players dealt with it very well. In hindsight, the amount of pre-season training that we’ve done up to now, and the extra few days in the room, was probably a blessing,” Fleming said.
When CSK takes the field in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, they will be met by a familiar foe in fellow 2019 finalists Mumbai Indians. An incredible finish to that final saw MI not just get the better of CSK, but also usurp their rivals in terms of title count. Fleming felt his team had earned the right to raise the IPL curtains alongside MI, and that it was a fixture that could help assess the team’s preparation.
“The first game is always full of anxiety, nerves, and excitement, and CSK-MI has added extra excitement and pressure and we enjoy that. We’ve earned the right to play the first game by playing well last year, and given the way the final finished last year, it’s nice to have another crack at MI. They are a very good side and it gives you a good gauge as to how the pre-season has gone and the areas that need improvement. You get a good idea after the first game as to where your team is sitting.
Even at a time when franchises are willing to wager on youngsters, CSK once again heads into a season as the most experienced side – with as many as 3256 T20 caps among the squad members. Fleming was staunch in his support for what his senior players bring to the table and explained how that has helped in getting them over the line in close games.
“We’ve got experienced players, and experienced players identify key times and that’s why they’ve done so well in their careers, that they can turn games, absorb pressure or just sum out the situation. That’s what experience is about and that’s why we value it so highly. And that’s why we’ve been able to get over the line in so many close games because the key player has been one with a lot of experience.”