It's not often that the Chennai Super Kings find themselves struggling at the start of an IPL season. This time round, though, they lost key players even before the tournament began, and an injury to Ambati Rayudu has weakened their batting to the extent that they've fallen out of contention within the first ten overs in back-to-back chases, the latest against Delhi Capitals on Friday ending in a 44-run defeat.
Their bowling hasn't quite clicked yet either. Their attack is built for spin-friendly conditions back at the MA Chidambaram Stadium rather than than the pitches they've encountered in the UAE at the start of this season, and their spinners - Ravindra Jadeja in particular - have struggled to find their groove.
On the batting
Dhoni: I feel when it comes to the batting department, we are lacking a bit of steam. There is no momentum right from the start, which hurts. If you are already chasing 160-plus, the run-rate keeps mounting and it puts added pressure on the middle-order batsmen. So we need to figure that out. We are one batter heavy to start off with but at the same time, if you are looking to get one more seamer or spinner into the side then the batsmen need to take that added pressure. I feel Rayudu will come back in the next game so that gives us some cushion, or liberty of trying something different.
Fleming: Well, we're a bit muddled at the moment. We're missing some key players, and we're trying to find a balance that allows us to be competitive. We're looking to develop a personality based on the wickets that we're facing. Each wicket has been completely different, and our batting line-up is, without Rayudu, [Suresh] Raina etc, we're trying to find a way or a combination and how to use players, and give players opportunities early on, so we know what we've got as the tournament goes on. We've learned a massive amount over three days. Today's performance was on the weak side in terms of intent, but they (the Capitals) also bowled very well.
On the spin bowling
Dhoni: The thing is, if you look at the whole bowling department, they've not been very consistent. So it's not like you can change four bowlers out of five. I think the spinners, yes, they have not come to the party yet.
Fleming: Yeah, it's an area of concern, because it's been such a strength for CSK, and you've got to think that the style of play that we've developed over the last 12 years is heavily based on spin. So what we're trying to do is find, I guess, a different personality. Spin still plays a part, and what we've struggled to do so far [is] we've played on three different grounds, so each game has been different conditions. We're struggling to adjust to find the pace and the style to bowl through the middle, and that, in the last two games in particular, has been an area where we haven't done so well. So going from a strength to an area of concern; we need to rectify that.
On the team combination
Dhoni: I feel the coming seven days are the best break we could have. We'll give the guys a bit more match simulation and come back with a clearer picture as to what is the best combination, looking at how everyone is contributing.
Fleming: All bets are on the table at the moment as we try to find a way that we are comfortable with. We are looking forward to playing a number of games here (in Dubai), so we were really interested in how this pitch played, and get conditions right so we can get the right combination. At the moment we're really searching, both as players and as management, to get the combination right. We're too batter-heavy if we play the extra batter and too bowler-heavy if we play the extra bowler. We're struggling a little bit to find our momentum but that will come with a bit of time off and experience from these three games.
On not promoting Sam Curran or Jadeja up the order
Fleming: We've used that tactic in the last couple of games, but with Kedar Jadhav and also MS, we've almost got too many batting options at the moment, so that's why I say we were a little bit muddled with what we're sending out, so we just need to be a little bit clearer with what we're doing, and perhaps what we're missing is a bigger contribution at the top. Yeah, it's a lot of question marks and a lot of soul-searching in particular from the coaching point of view and the strategy point of view, but we're trying to find combinations where we get the best players in at the right times. To keep shunting the order all over the place is not really our style, but we've had a go at it and we'll review how it's gone.
On the fast bowling
Dhoni: Overall, if we get more and more consistent with our length, line and pace it will be good when it comes to team selection… It's not like we have been very consistent with fast bowling. We are bowling good deliveries, but in between, we are giving a boundary opportunity. Maybe on fields like this - you know, bigger fields - it's best to be consistent with one line and let the batsmen play the big shot rather than trying too many things and giving them an opportunity to score a boundary.