Adaptability, picking the right personnel and reading pitches correctly in the absence of home ground advantage will be key to success at IPL 2020, according to the Chennai Super Kings head coach Stephen Fleming.
"This season is going to be very different tactically," Fleming told the Super Kings website. "With no real home ground advantage here, we've got to be very good at adapting to the conditions in each ground. We've got three different grounds (Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi) to assess and each ground has its own character and nuances, and we've just got to be good enough to pick the right team and get the right game plan to match that. It's like every game is an away game."
Apart from not having been able to train in Abu Dhabi - the venue of their tournament opener against the Mumbai Indians on Saturday - a lot of the Super Kings' first-choice players - including Shane Watson, MS Dhoni , Ambati Rayudu and Deepak Chahar- have been away from the game longer than some others. Add to it the challenges of playing in Abu Dhabi without having seen the wicket or assessed the conditions - something Mumbai have had the chance to do because they're based there.
"It's one of the challenges of having to travel to Abu Dhabi - we've got to have to be very good on the day to have to assess the wicket and pick the right combination," Fleming said. "One of the big challenges for IPL teams is to get the combinations right.
"There are a lot of skillful players that make the side, but there are also a lot of skillful players that don't. Picking the right side for the right conditions is one of the great challenges and we've got a good record at that. But I must admit, going to Abu Dhabi without seeing the wicket or assessing the conditions is going to be one of the big challenges to start with."
That said, Fleming also believes the Super Kings will be able to cover up for the lack of match time by their combined wealth of experience. For the record, Mumbai have come up trumps in the last two meetings between the sides. "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. And you also mix that with skill. You are conscious of having a skillful side and adding youth when we can and with that get the balance pretty right."
The lead-up to the Super Kings' campaign has been chaotic. Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh opted out of the season for different reasons while two players - Ruturaj Gaikwad and Deepak Chahar - along with a number of support staff members tested positive. Among all teams, the Super Kings have trained the least in the UAE, having only been able to begin on September 6 after extended quarantine periods. But Fleming doesn't think this will be a disadvantage.
"It has been different, and that's been part of the challenge - understanding the unknown," Fleming said of their build-up. "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. On 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."
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai captain, doesn't believe the past will have any bearing on how his team will perform in this year's IPL though they had lost each of their five games in the UAE in 2014, the last time the tournament was played in the country.
"We didn't have a great experience last time yes, but it's a different team now," Rohit said at the pre-tournament press conference on Thursday. "The thought process is different. Six years is a lot of time. Like I said, it's about understanding pitches and conditions, that is crucial so we are putting a lot of emphasis on that.
"Eventually the pitches will play a big part, so understanding and adapting quickly is important. But yes, the past won't play any part - it was just myself, Kieron Pollard and Jasprit Bumrah from that team. I think Bumrah played just one game. So the team is different, the staff is different [and] thought process is different. Looking forward to a great IPL."