'Dhoni is a great leader and a great player. He's been a constant for us for so many years. You just get into the rhythm while having him there.'
The absence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's "comforting" presence in the middle was a void Chennai Super Kings found too difficult to fill, coach Stephen Fleming said after a rare defeat in the ongoing Indian Premier League season.
Hosts Chennai Super Kings lost to Mumbai Indians by 46 runs in their return-leg IPL encounter, which Dhoni missed due to fever.
"Yeah, sure, think you know the answer to that. Dhoni is a great leader and a great player. He's been a constant for us for so many years. You just get into the rhythm while having him there. When you take a leader like that out, there are going to be some holes to fill. It's not that we're not trying to fill it. It's just that the hole is quite big," said Fleming after Friday match.
"It takes a mammoth effort to lift the team when you have one of your best players unavailable," he added.
When CSK played without Dhoni for the first time in IPL 2019, they suffered a six-wicket thrashing from Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 17. The team's showing was below-par in the two matches Dhoni could not play.
"The two games we played when we lost without Dhoni the performances have been well below par. There is comfort when he is there, but he didn't bat in the last game. I think the players are good enough and have experience and that's the key when we have situations which don't go our way." the former New Zealand captain said.
Fleming attributed the defeat to loss of wickets at regular intervals and failure to put together partnerships.
"Look, batting-wise we lost wickets consistently throughout; so the pitch had enough in it to create problems if you were losing wickets. The partnership in the front with Rohit (Sharma) and (Evin) Lewis was quite important.
"If we would have kept taking wickets, it might be 135-140; we felt it was tough to drag it to 155, but we needed good partnerships at the top to minimise the effect of their spinners but we didn't get that and it wasn't our day really; a lot of things didn't go our way. We didn't create enough to make them go our way" he added.
Fleming said he was concerned with repetitive mistakes committed this season and hopeful of a team performance in the remaining games.
"If we do have situations that don't go our way we should have the experience of dealing with it; which we haven't at the moment. I think what concerns me is repetitive mistakes we made many times this season. The fact that we are still at the top of the table is a testament to bowlers and individual performances.
"We don't want to wait until it's too late; we have two games left, and hopefully, the finals. We should be able to pull off a team performance", he added.
Fleming spoke about consistency in selection and how Murali Vijay, who has been on the fringes, had an opportunity to win the game for the team on Friday night.
"The consistency in the selection has given us fruits; Watson (in the last match) was a good example of that. Vijay has been on the fringe throughout the tournament, he's trained well. Today was an opportunity for him, he batted well but he also had a chance to win the game for the team.
"We will back our international players as much as we can, but you'll have to earn your place in this team," he added.
Mumbai leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, who bowled well but was not among wickets, said losing the toss was good for his team.
He said the team's bowling coach Shane Bond and mentor Zaheer Khan had always trusted his abilities and helped him out at the practice sessions.