Chennai Super Kings head coach Stephen Fleming has called skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni the team’s heartbeat and said the desire to do well even after playing 200 matches is a testament to his attitude towards the game and the franchise.

Dhoni has been leading the side since the inaugural edition of the league in 2008.

“His longevity has to be mentioned and appreciated... to play 200 games and still have a desire to do well is a testament to his attitude towards the game and franchise,” Fleming said after CSK beat Punjab Kings by six wickets win in the ongoing IPL here on Friday.

“I think the franchise has grown and MS has grown with it, so it is a great relationship and great fun,” the former New Zealand skipper added.

Terming Dhoni the heartbeat of CSK, Fleming said, “He is the heartbeat of CSK, there’s no doubt about it. Whether it’s performance, guidance or leadership, you run out of things to say about him.”

He said the manner in which the team bounced back after the first game was impressive and praised Man of the Match Deepak Chahar for his efforts (4/13).

“Really impressed with the way he bounced back after the first game. Without doubt, when Deepak gets a little bit of swing and a little bit of movement, he is one of the finest around. His ability to swing the ball is one. But his control and skill set is also very high.

“The key is keeping him simple in his plans and just operating in and around the stumps. He is very effective when the ball swings. A great bounce back from a below par performance in the first game.”

Fleming also said the toss was crucial, days after the team had failed to create any opportunities in their opening game against Delhi Capitals.

“We felt within ourselves that the conditions transpired against us with the drizzle and the dew (in the first game). We weren’t able to create any opportunities. So the challenge was laid down to the bowlers’ group as to how they were going to operate in today’s conditions.”

The CSK coach backed opener Ruturaj Gaikwad despite the batsman not being able to get going for a second straight match.

“I am happy with the balance we have got in the team. Ruturaj (Gaikwad) is a fine player. He got a good ball in the first match and very difficult conditions today. It wasn’t a 220-run wicket today. It was much different.

“Ruturaj was a player we showed faith in last year, and his talent came through. Our philosophy when we pick players and put them in the team is to back them. This combination (Ruturaj-Faf du Plessis) is simply that,” he added.

Fleming said the playing XI would also depend on the conditions, which are not straightforward, adding he was encouraged with the way the team played.

“Well, it was the best 11 when you put in a performance like this, then it’s hard to argue. But yeah, we only have one. We have Lungi Ngidi who now becomes available, but he’s only out in the next couple of days.

“So, we’ll see how he comes out of quarantine, but the performance today from the 11 was very encouraging. And, and now it’s a case of really assisting the conditions. I think everyone thought it was going to be high-scoring, but now there’s a little bit more art to the team you pick in that, the tactics that you use,” he added.

Asked if there was any specific plan for Chris Gayle, he said, “The players have been through a number of fields for Chris (Gayle) because he is such a dangerous player.

“The key thing to acknowledge was how the wicket was going to play and also if you win the toss.

“We felt in our first game here, the wicket was a little sticky and offered a little bit to the bowlers. When we found that it was the case today, we had a few more attacking options.

“The first effort was to get Chris out lbw with a swinging ball. The other plans worked from there.”

Praise for Deepak Chahar

Dhoni heaped praise on Deepak Chahar as the medium-pacer took four wickets to star in their win over Punjab Kings.

“Overall the years, he has matured into a death bowler too but he’s somebody who gets more purchase than other bowlers. If you’re looking to attack, why not finish his first four overs. Bravo can bowl at the death. It’s not a secret,” Dhoni said.

About pushing England all-rounder Moeen Ali up the order, the CSK captain said, “We felt if Moeen bats up the order, we can make use of the resources that we got. Moeen is a very good timer of the ball and plays authentic shots. We have to make the most of the resources.”

Recalling the IPL journey, Dhoni, who played his 200th match for CSK, said it was a very long one and made him feel good.

“It started in 2008 - played in SA, Dubai, and back home. Never thought Mumbai would be our home.”

He was not happy with the relaid pitch at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai.

“After the wicket was relaid, we found it difficult to adjust to conditions. This is a very good wicket, but it depends on the conditions on that day. The ball moved today, but it didn’t swing around a lot. There was no dew and enough seam movement,” he added.

Punjab captain KL Rahul was disappointed with the performance.

“There’s not much more to say. If any team loses five wickets in the first seven or eight overs, it’s always going to be catch-up. They bowled well, we played some bad shots, that’s how the game goes.

“It (pitch) was a lot more sticky and tacky than what it looked like. Credit to the CSK bowlers, they bowled in the right channels, Deepak with his knuckleballs got a couple of wickets, getting myself run-out doesn’t help the team.”

Chahar said it wasn’t a 100-110 wicket, adding it was good learning for the team.

“We have pace in our attack, we obviously want to use that. The first game didn’t go too well for those two (Richardson and Meredith), it was their first game and I am sure they were a bit nervous.

“That was the chat after the game as well, that’s how IPL goes. It can be tough and cruel. Their plans were clear, they did execute it pretty well.”

He said he got the responsibility to bowl the first over and set the tone.

“It’s a big responsibility for me in the last four years and Mahi bhai has shown faith in me. As a bowler, this is my plan always. You may not take wickets in T20s, so my plan is to bowl dots in powerplays,” Chahar added.

With PTI inputs