MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Deepak Chahar and Piyush Chawla were among the batch of local Chennai Super Kings players who arrived in Chennai on Friday for a short IPL preparatory camp. Among those missing were Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh, who will link up with the squad ahead of their departure to the UAE on August 21.
From Sunday, the Super Kings players will be put through their paces starting with low-intensity training to allow them to get back into their groove. Many players, including captain Dhoni, Raina, Harbhajan and Ambati Rayudu haven't played any competitive cricket for over a year. The franchise had organised a two-week camp in March to facilitate more training for some of their older players, but that had to be called off due to Covid-19.
Among their fast-bowling contingent, Chahar is returning from a stress fracture of the back. He injured himself during the home series against West Indies last December and has only resumed bowling recently, after undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy. Among the overseas players, Shane Watson, their premier allrounder, has only featured in one tournament - Pakistan Super League 2020 - in the last 18 months.
L Balaji, Super Kings' bowling coach, is wary of players "trying to do too much, too quickly" after the forced break. He has advocated a gradual resumption to training and net sessions.
"We have to be mindful of fast bowlers, especially, of overloading and need to monitor that," Balaji told ESPNcricinfo. "Players have all been starved of any cricket in the summer, so it's only natural that when they're back at training, they want to bowl, field, do all the routines they're used to for long periods of time. But because many of them haven't played for long or are coming back from injuries, we need to gradually phase them back into full-intensity training."
"Fast bowlers always thrive under a proactive and supportive on-field captain, that is a huge factor. That is where playing under Dhoni has been a huge advantage for guys like Shardul or Chahar"L Balaji
Balaji spoke of how the coaches and support staff have kept in constant touch with the players to ensure they are adequately prepared after the long break.
"It's very important [communication between players and coaches] for a tournament like the IPL," Balaji explained. "You can't overnight prepare your body for six weeks of heavy workload. We will probably play a match every two days or so, for players need to understand their bodies.
"The idea is to ensure players finish the tournament without any injuries, and for that management and conditioning is important. The key is to accelerate your training slowly and decelerate when your body has come to a certain level of repetitiveness, so that you recover to do it again. We've put in place a proper workload management system, it's important."
Super Kings' Indian fast-bowling contingent consists of Chahar, Shardul Thakur and KM Asif, while the overseas pacers include Josh Hazlewood, Dwayne Bravo, Sam Curran and Lungi Ngidi, who missed the previous season due to injury. Balaji believes this mix of experienced overseas personnel and young Indian pacers, feeding off each other in an informal set-up, has helped bring results.
"Trust and freedom is key," Balaji said. "Fast bowlers always thrive under a proactive and supportive on-field captain, that is a huge factor. That is where playing under Dhoni has been a huge advantage for guys like Shardul or Deepak Chahar, because he's someone who gives them plenty of opportunities and confidence, even when they've had off days. Dhoni is process oriented, but at the same time practical. He doesn't put them under undue pressure and allows them to enjoy and evolve within their own potential.
"It's mostly about knowledge and experience sharing at this level. They're all among the best, that is why they're playing in the IPL or for their countries, so you can't get overly technical. So we give them a platform where they can share inputs in an informal environment and that is why a lot of them thrive.
"Some of the best conversations I've had as a player are from informal chats with Wasim Akram and Brett Lee, and not from one-on-one sessions. That is the atmosphere we've tried to create at CSK, where things are informal, yet players have lots to learn. We've all had good conversations between the Indian bowling group - Deepak, Shardul, Harbhajan, Jadeja - everyone's got their own ideas and inputs to share. This has been of immense help to all of them."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo