Abu Dhabi: His sabbatical from the game has done Mahendra Singh Dhoni a world of good, Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming said on Friday, asserting that the enigmatic skipper is "mentally engaged and determined" to encounter the challenges of a "tactically different" IPL.
Dhoni's CSK will take on Rohit Sharma's Mumbai Indians in the tournament opener on Saturday. Fleming, a former New Zealand captain, stressed that his team's experience of winning big matches will come in handy during the next 53 days.
Dhoni retired from international cricket last month after being on a break for over one year and when asked about the 39-year-old's preparedness for the IPL, Fleming said, "It has been no different. He's 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. MS is fresh and ready to go," Fleming said in a pre-tournament interview to CSK's official website.
The three-time champions are banking heavily on their 35-plus players, including Dhoni himself, Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Kedar Jadhav, and Imran Tahir to name a few.
"...experienced players identify key times and that's why they've done so well in their careers. 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," said Fleming.
"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."
Starting against a quality side like MI is certainly exciting for Fleming, who wants his men to have a crack at the defending champions after their agonising last-ball loss in the previous edition.
"The first game is always full of anxiety, nerves and excitement, and CSK-MI has added extra excitement and pressure and we enjoy that. 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 (MI) are a very good side and it gives you a good gauge as to how the pre-season has gone and the areas that need improvement. You get a good idea after the first game as to where your team is sitting."
With the home advantage of playing seven games at Chepauk gone, Fleming is bracing up for a very different tournament tactically where adaptability will be the key.
"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.
"We've got three different grounds to assess and each ground has its own character and nuances and we've just got to be good enough to pick the right team and get the right game plan to match that. It's like every game is an away game," he explained.
Assessing the track correctly at Abu Dhabi is another factor considering it is slightly different in nature from Dubai and Sharjah.
"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.
"Picking the right side for the right conditions is one of the great challenges and we've got a good record at that. But I must admit, going to Abu Dhabi without seeing the wicket or assessing the conditions is going to be one of the big challenges to start with," he concluded.