'He wasn't the only one who struggled' - Stephen Fleming on MS Dhoni's sluggish batting

Coach says CSK's slowdown was due to the challenging conditions, "not lack of intent"

Deivarayan Muthu
Chennai Super Kings, in their three-wicket defeat to Delhi Capitals, got to 48 for 2 by the end of the powerplay, but then slowed down so much towards the middle that they did not score a single boundary for the next five overs. Ambati Rayudu eventually broke free at the death to end with an unbeaten 55 off 43 balls, but MS Dhoni could not make up for lost time: he dawdled to 18 off 27 balls before edging behind, having hit zero boundaries. This slowdown was not down to lack of intent, coach Stephen Fleming said after the game, pointing out that Dhoni wasn't the only batter who struggled to get the ball away on a challenging Dubai pitch.
"Well, he [Dhoni] wasn't the only one who struggled," Fleming said. "It was a difficult day for strokeplay. When 137 [136] is almost enough, I think it was a tough wicket to score big on in terms of the big shots. So both teams struggled with that towards the end of the innings. Sometimes you set your sights too high, [want] too many, and probably we were only 10-15 runs short of having a match-winning score.
"So, the difficulty at the moment is to assess what the conditions are in all three different grounds and, batting first, getting a score that is par or just above. It was no lack of intent, it was just we had to stabilise after a couple of mistakes and then we were reasonably well-placed for 150. The other thing was their attack bowled very well in the last five overs. They were very smart, so it was tough going.
The result might still have gone Super Kings' way had substitute K Gowtham hung on to a fairly straightforward chance offered by Shimron Hetmyer at long-on, in the 18th over bowled by Dwayne Bravo. The ball burst through Gowtham's hands and rolled to the boundary, leaving Capitals needing 18 off 15 balls. Hetmyer went on to usher Capitals home - and to the top spot on the table. Fleming rued his team's "clumsy mistakes", but said he would rather face these setbacks now than during the playoffs.
"I'd rather have two defeats [Super Kings lost their previous game as well, to Rajasthan Royals] now than in the two semi-finals, if I ever had a wish list," he said. "Today was good, today was scrappy and I think there were a lot of mistakes on both sides. Sometimes, when you've qualified, I know there are one or two [things] that we were trying hard for... and things do change a little bit.
"We try to work very hard on keeping the intensity. We're on the back of three games in five days and a bit of travel, so there were probably clumsy mistakes from us, which was the most disappointing aspect, but in terms of the competition one of the key things is rebounding. Second on the table [with] a chance to get to the top two is still a positive position, but we need to just maintain our intensity or get the flow and rhythm that we had before these two games."
In the previous game he played, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Bravo came into the attack as early as the seventh over and took 2 for 17 in his four overs, including the prized scalp of Kane Williamson. However, on Monday, that 18th over turned out to be Bravo's first. Fleming reasoned that Bravo's particular strengths and the two-paced Dubai track prompted this late introduction.
"The pitch was very difficult when the taller fast bowlers hit the back of a length hard," Fleming said. "There was inconsistency there. Dwayne Bravo is not really a player who bangs the ball into the pitch. His death yorkers and changes of pace are his key weapons. When there are other resources that are making in-ways and creating opportunity, brought us back into the game... Dwayne's death [bowling] is very effective. I thought the tactics were spot on. Throughout the game the faster bowlers banging it on a back of a length had a good day out. That was our tactic and we did we did it really well."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo