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News

Fleming: CSK know what Dhoni can give them, and they will 'max that out'

With Dhoni not as fit as he once was, "we're trying to find that balance where he can have an impact on the match," says Fleming

MS Dhoni was knocked over by a pinpoint slower yorker from Harshal Patel, Punjab Kings vs Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2024, Dharamsala, May 5, 2024

MS Dhoni was knocked over by a slower yorker from Harshal Patel first ball in his last innings  •  BCCI

Is MS Dhoni carrying a major injury? Is that why he batted at No. 9 in Chennai Super Kings' (CSK's) last game - and was dismissed for a first-ball duck - against Punjab Kings? No, Stephen Fleming, the CSK coach, said a day off from their next game, against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad and put Dhoni's late entry down to strategy and "workload".
"Don't worry about position, it's time of the game that we're looking at," Fleming said at the pre-game press conference. "We've seen earlier on, when he recovered from knee surgery last year, which was quite debilitating for him, [that] there was a certain workload this year that he can manage.
"Now, one of our challenges is that we got a good back-up keeper [Aravelly Avanish], but he's no MS Dhoni. We want to keep MS Dhoni on the field doing what he does best, which is the last two-three-four overs with the bat, and his keeping and his ability... the sheer technical advice for the new captain is really important."
Though he denied that Dhoni has an injury that could affect his time in the middle, Fleming did make it clear that the almost-43-year-old body needs more care than it once did.
"We're valuing some other things. Physically it's risky," Fleming said. "We've seen early on in the season, a little bit of muscle injury - if he does bat too long, we run the risk of losing him. So we're trying to find that balance where he can have an impact on the match.
"Like just hitting sixes and fours, which he has done pretty well. And keep as well as some of the best in the competition if not the best in the competition. So don't underestimate his influence on the team just because he comes in at No. 9. There's a timing aspect, but we're very wary of what he can give us. And we'll max that out.
"But we don't want to max that out where we lose him. So it's a delicate balance, but trust me, his best interest is with us, and his interest [is] in performing well for us is still very high. To put the nation at ease - he's okay."
"We're just guarding against him batting for five or six overs and [having to] sprint every couple of balls. It's a specific role we are using him for. It's been partly last year, but it's now become an issue, but it hasn't really changed"
Stephen Fleming
When asked again about Dhoni's fitness status, Fleming was firm that the CSK icon has just one role in the batting innings, and that was as a hitter in the death. How many balls he faces and in which over he walks out are dependent on the match situation, which also dictated his batting number.
"There's no other reason - he had a side strain way back, game three, game four. And we've just been nursing that through," Fleming said. "But his role has been pretty clear: it's from about, I don't know, the back half, three or four overs. We can't always get that timing. Depends on a wicket. And he's the best guy for that as well.
"So it's just a tactic we're using with him - the last three or four overs if it works out, if a wicket falls then, great; if it's closer to 20, then we can retire players. But that's not really in their DNA. So that's why it comes and goes around that point. But it's only going to be a hitting role towards the end."
Images of Dhoni walking around with a big pack, possibly ice, strapped around his leg at the end of games in IPL 2024 have been common. That, plus walking out at No. 9, plus comments by former cricketers, have led to some criticism, but Fleming, not for the first time in what was a fairly short press conference, had to stress that all was well.
"He can run. It's just that he isn't going to bat for a long period of time," he said. "Keeping is fine. He's very economical with his movements, so he can keep in his... his hands, his hand-eye [coordination] and speed is as good as anyone. So no problem with that.
"We're just guarding against him batting for five or six overs and [having to] sprint every couple of balls. It's a specific role we are using him for. It's been partly last year, but it's now become an issue, but it hasn't really changed."
Though not at his best physically, Dhoni has played each of CSK's games so far, kept to every ball bowled by a CSK bowler, and has scored at a strike rate of 224.48 for his 110 runs in just 49 balls. Among batters to have faced at least that many balls, only Jake Fraser-McGurk has scored quicker - 235.87.
CSK, with three games left in the group stage of IPL 2024, are at No. 4 on the points table, far from assured of qualifying for the playoffs, but well placed to pull it off.