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IPL 8: It was just a very difficult season, says CSK coach Stephen Fleming

IPL 8: It was just a very difficult season, says CSK coach Stephen Fleming

"We were pleased with the way we adapted, I think to be top of the table is a good achievement but obviously we were looking further ahead," said Fleming.

Kolkata: Chennai Super Kings’ run through the Pepsi IPL 2015 was admirable rather than awe-inspiring. The two-time former champions hardly put in a dominant performance, scraping and scrapping rather than muscling their way through the draw. Even though they finished on top of the league table with nine wins from 14 matches, they didn’t quite instill the same fear in their opponents that Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore did, largely because they didn’t quite flex their batting muscles as often as they have done in the past.

After a 41-run spanking at the hands of Mumbai in the final at the Eden Gardens on Sunday, Mahendra Singh Dhoni conceded that throughout the competition, his team had been at less than 100% efficiency. It was a sentiment echoed by Stephen Fleming as Chennai were beaten in the final for the fourth time in six attempts.

“It feels like that, and that is not meant to be disrespectful in any way," the Chennai coach said of his team’s less-than-intimidating campaign. “It felt like we never got going. We had one dominant batting performance when (Brendon) McCullum got a hundred, the rest of the games have been on pitches in Chennai, which have been hard work; 140-160 have been good scores (at Chepauk) and it has been very hard work restricting teams and it sort of gave an impression and felt to us that it was very tough. No one was in full flow, we have got batters that like the ball coming on and can score freely.

“It was just a very difficult season, we really had to graft our way through. We were pleased with the way we adapted, I think to be top of the table is a good achievement but obviously we were looking further ahead. And the team that we had picked to play (in the final), we were looking forward to spin conditions in Ranchi if things didn’t work out in Mumbai and here, which has been spin dominated. The fact was that it was a good pitch but it wasn’t as spinner friendly as we had hoped."

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Much was made of the fact that Dhoni opted to field first on a surface full of runs. Fleming endorsed the decision to chase, disagreeing with suggestions that India’s most successful captain had read the pitch wrong. “No, we read it as a team," insisted the former New Zealand captain. “It’s very hard, it’s not really a science. I read a lot of your interviews and articles and they suggested it was going to be green grass and quite fresh. This room I would imagine was saying the same thing (that chasing was the right option). In hindsight, you’d probably say something different. But this doesn’t win or lose you the game, not in Twenty20. The way they played won the game for them. They got a great total on the board and they bowled aggressively. We didn’t bat as well as we could because we were under pressure. When you are chasing a big score to only manage 35-40 in the first six is a tribute to their opening bowlers. They did well and just shut us down. So any hopes we had of chasing it down were quashed pretty quickly.

“Everything suggested (win the toss and) bowl because it was a fresh wicket, there was a good amount of grass on it. What we didn’t expect was for it to get any inconsistency. This ground is renowned for chasing. Kolkata (Knight Riders) do it all the time and so we took a leaf out of them. In hindsight, yes (we might have batted first), but possibly only because of the way they played. They bowled a very smart game, we obviously had scoreboard pressure, so we were playing a catch-up game and that can often make conditions look worse than what they actually are. I think it was more pressure than anything and that was down to the large total."

The large total Fleming referred to was Mumbai’s 202 for 5, on the back of half-centuries from Lendl Simmons and Rohit Sharma, and a blistering stand of 71 for the fourth wicket between Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu. “They played well, didn’t they? I thought they were excellent," Fleming chose not to mask his admiration for Mumbai’s batting display. “We started beautifully (just one run from the first eight balls) and then we got a little bit loose. Rohit Sharma is in great form and Lendl Simmons has been playing well and they just quickly grew momentum. We just weren’t good enough to stop it. The game that they played from about the second over on was almost faultless. It was a very good performance from them and we just stuttered and it was probably very similar to the last five or six games we have played. We weren’t at our best, we were just trying to hang on but it wasn’t good enough."

This defeat was Chennai’s third in the final in the last four editions, but Fleming swatted away notions that it had become a mind thing. “No, we won the Champions League the last tournament, so it’s not mental," he pointed out. “It’s just on the day and it is very tough to win. You have got two good sides going at it and we have come across some great performances. An individual performance from (Kolkata’s Manvinder) Bisla that beat us with 195 (in 2012), we have been below par for one. It can be such a fine line. We are realistic. The team will get you to this stage, which we are very proud of, and then it’s individual performances on the day and we lost McCullum and a couple of key players. So we were sort of trending down this way a little bit whereas they (Mumbai) were riding a high and very settled. We have been hanging on, we have been hanging on for the last couple of weeks hoping more than looking forward to a good performance. And in particular with our batting. Batting’s been our strength but our numbers this year have been down. It’s actually the bowling that has done well."