IPL 9: Fleming backs under-fire Dhoni despite Pune's sorry campaign

Kolkata: Rising Pune Supergiants coach Stephen Fleming today said several factors contributed to team's ordinary show in the Indian Premier League but backed under-fire captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

MS Dhoni with coach Stephen Fleming
MS Dhoni with coach Stephen Fleming

Dhoni has been the centre of all the criticism and drew a lot of flak for not promoting himself up the batting and also underutilising his one-time trusted off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

"It's true. But public take a lot of interest in fortunes of the teams so they can over analyse team's performances, individual contribution. But it was a big challenge to bring another group together. You have to get to know people very quickly and not only that you have to get your combination right. How players perform," Fleming said on the eve of their match against Kolkata Knight Riders.

Asked about the debate surrounding Ashwin who has not able to bowl his full quota of four overs quota in 10 of his last T20s, including five matches for Pune, Fleming said it was something to do with the conditions.

"If you take wickets at the top it allows our spinners to get into the game. We have not done that on some of the tracks. MS has been little reticent bringing the spinners in knowing the history against some of the players -- Kohli is probably one who plays Ashwin very well," he said about Ashwin who was introduced in the 17th over in their seven-wicket loss to Royal Challengers Bangalore.

"He's made some onfield calls about going to other areas of our attack. I know it causes much speculation. But believe me he is still highly valued in our side. He bowled beautifully in the last game when the conditions were right and he got 1/16. We know his talents, but conditions have often dictated. It certainly nothing more than that."

He said leading India and Chennai Super Kings was a different story as he had a settled unit under his disposal. "Having them worked together in a team is a much different dynamic. It's been challenging. Probably the batting has been passable but we struggled a bit in bowling under different conditions. We had to work hard. When you're captain looking to get everything out of your team, you push very hard. This is been a good challenge."  

One of the two debutant teams this season, the Supergiants have lost four of their star international players -- Australian duo of Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh, South African Faf du Plessis and Englishman Kevin Pietersen -- due to injury, while their home matches later were shifted to Visakhapatnam with water crisis in Maharashtra.

Terming it unusual, he said: "You need to know we lost four of our first choice overseas players... So it's five from our first choice team. That's unusual. I've never seen that happened before. It meant a little bit more uncertainty. We had five last over finishes and we converted three of those.

If we converted all of them we were sitting on 10 points and right in the mix.

"What it suggests that we just need to get better. One of the challenges of a new team is it just takes a bit of time to have a settled look. We missed having a home ground, that's another comfort so we had to travel a lot more. And we just could not quite get across the line..."

The other debutants Gujarat Lions however are in the mix of things and are well placed to clinch a playoff berth but Fleming said it's unfair to compare as they did not have any injury issues.

"We probably are over analysing. Gujarat have done really well. The opening batters in particular have set up games. I will go back to saying if you take four international players out of Gujarat -- Smith, McCullum, Bravo and Faulkner -- then you got some challenges. Anytime you take top four overseas players, you will have some holes."

"I'm happy with the core group of players. These are some of India's best players. The test is whether they keep reinventing themselves. Fitness becomes important and also the desire to get better. I think there will be a general willingness to improve."

Praising their bench strength, he said, "That's a positive. We are looking to take forward to next year. Maybe we are a team which would be at the top of the table not bottom."

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