Last season, MS Dhoni enjoyed his best IPL with the bat. He racked up 455 runs in 15 innings at an average of 75.83 and strike rate of over 150. Thirteen out of those 15 innings were at No. 4 or No. 5, but Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming has hinted that Dhoni might not bat as high in the line-up and would float in the middle order instead in IPL 2019.
At the launch of CSK's official merchandise in Chennai, Fleming also said that a fit-again Kedar Jadhav, who has slotted into the role of finisher for India, would ease the pressure on Dhoni. In IPL 2018, Jadhav played only the season opener - and won that for the team - before a hamstring injury sidelined him from the rest of the season.
"Dhoni batted pretty much [at] No. 4 last year but we do use him in a little bit of flexible role, so that won't change. His form has been outstanding in the last ten months, so, we won't be getting tricky because we have a new player as well [Jadhav], which is great. So, we're really happy with the [batting] order and the thoughts around that," Fleming said.
Four of CSK's players - Jadhav, Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu and Ravindra Jadeja - are on India's World Cup radar, and Fleming conceded that the franchise have to be wary of managing their workloads in the IPL.
In addition to these four India players, several others such as South Africa's Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir and England's David Willey are set to play the World Cup and are, therefore, going to leave the IPL early. But Fleming said that the side was mindful of the players' availability and that managing the workloads of the bowlers would be a bigger challenge.
Left-arm spin-bowling allrounder Mitchell Santner, too, just has returned to action from a knee injury, and was even rested for a few limited-overs games against India earlier this year.
"When we sit and pick as a team, we were mindful of how many players will be leaving early and what the balance would be like. So, it has had an influence" STEPHEN FLEMING
"Yes, this [workload management] is going to play a part," Fleming said. "The reason I say that is England 18 months ago stipulated when their players will be leaving early; Australia are the same. It has had an impact. When we sit and pick as a team, we were mindful of how many players will be leaving early and what the balance would be like. So, it has had an influence."
Jadhav also touched upon the topic of workload management, hinting that he might limit his bowling for CSK.
"My workload, I think, is about managing my bowling," Jadhav said. "In CSK, I don't think I need to bowl as much as I do in the Indian team. How you recover after every IPL game really matters during this two-month period. You can't just improve in one training session.
"Obviously, it's up to the individuals and we are smart enough to handle the situation. We will work in tandem with trainers and physios of Indian team as well as the franchise. We have got some notes [from Indian trainers and physios] and we have to follow them."
Fleming was particularly pleased with the balance of the side and welcomed the addition of Santner, who had missed the entire IPL 2018 due to injury. More recently, Santner played a crucial role - both with ball and bat - in Northern Districts' run to the final in the Super Smash and later proved his fitness in the four-day Plunket Shield. Santner's inclusion, Fleming said, would bolster the spin attack of Tahir, Harbhajan Singh, Karn Sharma and Jadeja, on what is expected to be a sluggish Chepauk track.
"Yeah, Mitch has a got a great record in the subcontinent and it's good to have him," he said. "We obviously missed him last year - so again it's like a new signing. Just the quality and game plan. We have a strong top order and we have good variations [in the attack]."
Fleming also talked up the seam attack that adapted to the quicker, bouncier pitches in Pune last year, and reckoned they might still have a role to play in Chennai.
"We backed our pace bowlers last year and they made the adjustment to Pune last year," Fleming said. "Chennai still has a role for the pace bowlers; we're conscious of a good balance. Imran Tahir is in good form, Karn Sharma and Harbhajan with his experience - we've got most of the bases covered and it's just about getting the guys to perform and sitting on our game plan, especially at home but when we play away as well. "
So, with nearly all the bases covered, can CSK claim an unprecedented fourth IPL title? Fleming isn't thinking about that just yet, and wants his players to absorb pressure and grab the crunch moments like they did last season.
"We don't talk about defending or retaining the Cup," he said. "We're humble enough to know how hard it is to win it. [It's] not arrogance. Just a case of caring for others and playing along.
"Last year we just won big moments. We're just big on team culture and empowering the players to make decisions and win big moments. And last year was a snapshot of that. Even though the young man [Jadhav] was only with us for one game, he played a huge part in winning that game with Bravo. And Faf du Plessis and [Shane] Watson at the end. And the usual suspects of Dhoni and Raina."