CSK coach Stephen Fleming has cleared the air around MS Dhoni‘s injury concerns and low batting position during their previous game against PBKS.

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Playing in what almost certainly seems like his last IPL season, Dhoni has been handled carefully so far by the Chennai Super Kings management.

In CSK’s last game against PBKS at Dharamshala, they sent out Shardul Thakur ahead of Dhoni at No.8, with the wicketkeeper coming in at No.9. It was the first time in top flight cricket (internationals and IPL) that he was batting so far down the order. The move didn’t bring results as he was dismissed for a golden duck by a Harshal Patel slower yorker.

Dhoni’s demotion raised concerns over his fitness among fans and experts while many also questioned his value in the team if he was to come so far down the order. Speaking ahead of their game against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad tomorrow (May 10), CSK coach Fleming clarified the details over Dhoni’s fitness and explained why he has been batting down the order.

“Don’t worry about position, it’s time of the game that we’re looking at,” Fleming said at the pre-match press conference. “We’ve seen earlier on, when he recovered from knee surgery last year, which was quite debilitating for him, [that] there was a certain workload this year that he can manage.”

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Fleming mentioned about Aravelly Avanish, the only other specialist wicketkeeper in the squad, but said that he is definitely no match for Dhoni as of now. “Now, one of our challenges is that we got a good back-up keeper [Aravelly Avanish], but he’s no MS Dhoni,” Fleming said.

“We want to keep MS Dhoni on the field doing what he does best, which is the last two-three-four overs with the bat, and his keeping and his ability, the sheer technical advice for the new captain is really important.”

Fleming explained that CSK are delicately trying to balance Dhoni’s fitness and the output he can provide to the team.

“We’re valuing some other things. Physically it’s risky. We’ve seen early on in the season, a little bit of muscle injury. If he does bat too long, we run the risk of losing him. So we’re trying to find that balance where he can have an impact on the match.

“Like just hitting sixes and fours, which he has done pretty well. And keep as well as some of the best in the competition if not the best in the competition. So don’t underestimate his influence on the team just because he comes in at No. 9. There’s a timing aspect, but we’re very wary of what he can give us. And we’ll max that out.

“But we don’t want to max that out where we lose him. So it’s a delicate balance, but trust me, his best interest is with us, and his interest [is] in performing well for us is still very high. To put the nation at ease, he’s okay.”

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The CSK coach also clarified that despite his weakening knees, Dhoni doesn’t have problems running, but they don’t want to put him in a situation where he has to run a lot while batting.

“He can run. It’s just that he isn’t going to bat for a long period of time,” he said. “Keeping is fine. He’s very economical with his movements, so he can keep in his. His hands, his hand-eye [coordination] and speed is as good as anyone. So no problem with that.

“We’re just guarding against him batting for five or six overs and [having to] sprint every couple of balls. It’s a specific role we are using him for.”

CSK are currently fourth on the points table and have three games to go with 12 points in their bag. They would need at least two if not three wins out of three to secure qualification.