Dubai: The Chennai Super Kings are looking at a perfect take-off as they face the Mumbai Indians in their tournament opener of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at Shaikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
This season’s curtain-raiser is a repeat of last year’s final when Mumbai locked horns with CSK in the summit showdown at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad and clinched a narrow one-run win.
And now, CSK head coach Stephen Fleming is relishing the prospects of getting a proper assessment of his own side while readying to face-off against possibly one of the toughest teams this year.
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“The first game is always full of anxiety, nerves and excitement, and CSK-MI has added extra excitement and pressure and we enjoy that,” Fleming said on the official CSK website.
“We’ve earned the right to play the first game by playing well last year, and given the way the final finished last year, it’s nice to have another crack at MI. They are a very good side and it gives you a good gauge as to how the preseason has gone and the areas that need improvement. You get a good idea after the first game as to where your team is sitting,” the former New Zealand captain added.
It is not for anything that CSK are the only team in the history of the IPL that have never changed their captain MS Dhoni over all these years. But that said, the CSK management may be having more questions than answers before Saturday’s opener in Abu Dhabi.
“I see this season is going to be very different tactically. With no real home ground advantage here, we’ve got to be very good at adapting to the conditions in each ground. 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. One of the big challenges for IPL teams is to get the combinations right,” Fleming said.
But, Saturday will all be about squaring things up between two of the strongest and most-favoured teams in this year’s competition. All this despite the drawbacks facing the three-time former champions and runners-up last season. Leave alone the rare situation created by the ongoing pandemic, one of their main stars Suresh Raina left camp and retreated back to India, while ace spinner Harbhajan Singh stayed back due to the much-favoured excuse — ‘personal reasons’.
Through all this, Dhoni was, and still remains the cornerstone of much of the success at CSK. Fleming is confident that it is this aspect and the experience of senior players that can see the CSK through many a trying time. “It has been no different. He’s [MS Dhoni] very fit and mentally he’s been very engaged and determined. In some ways the break can work for the experienced and older players that we have. He is fresh and ready to go,” he said. “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 skilful side and adding youth when we can and with that get the balance pretty right.”