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Simply owing that space, says Fleming of Dhoni

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Lucknow, Apr 20 (PTI) His brilliant form notwithstanding, Mahendra Singh Dhoni cannot be promoted in the batting order as his recovery from a knee injury has restricted his ability to wield the willow for long periods, Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming has said.

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Called CSK's "heartbeat" by Fleming, Dhoni, 42, gave his team the much-needed impetus with a nine-ball 28 against Lucknow Super Giants here on Friday, one of the few entertaining cameos he has played this season.

The few balls that Dhoni is getting to face in this IPL season, Fleming said he is simply "owing that space".

Hailing Dhoni, Fleming said, "It's inspirational, isn't it? His batting this year even in training has been very crisp. The team isn't surprised with what he is doing because his skill level during the pre-season was very high.

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"Other years he has obviously had problems with his knee and he is sort of recovering from that which is why there is only a certain amount of balls he can function well." Further opening up on Dhoni's role, Fleming pointed out his 'two-three over' approach.

"I think everyone wants to see him for longer as we do but that amount of time is about right. We need him for the tournament and that 2-3 over cameo he is owning that space.

"It's up to the rest of the batting unit to get us to a good position where he can push us over the top. He is doing that pretty much every time at the moment which is great to watch," Fleming said at the post-match press conference.

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The long-time CSK coach said former skipper Dhoni, who guided the team to five IPL titles, remains the franchise's heartbeat and that they are "enjoying every minute" of his presence as the fans shower him with love and adulation across venues.

"What an amazing atmosphere when he comes out and does play and entertain, it's exhilarating," Fleming observed.

"We are incredibly proud of what he has achieved. We marvel at the amount of love that he gets. It's no surprise with what he has done with Indian cricket and with CSK with us. We are incredibly proud that he is a part of our side and is pretty much the heartbeat of the side. We thoroughly enjoy it.

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"We know we are beneficiaries of the career that he has had and is having. We enjoy every minute of it." This IPL has seen the bat almost completely dominating the ball, but Fleming said the trend might change in the second half of the tournament with a rise in temperature.

"The sample is still relatively small. We are only getting to halfway through the tournament, what I would expect to see is with the hot conditions and the wickets being used, the scoring should slow a little bit.

"Today (Friday) was a good contest between bat and ball, it was a good even contest," he said.

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"I think people enjoy seeing a lot of fours and sixes but there is also that warning that is becoming a bit one-sided, I agree with that and that's why I enjoy a tussle like that where there is a little bit in it for both." Asked to bat first, Ravindra Jadeja came up with a solid unbeaten 57 before Moeen Ali (30 off 20) and Dhoni (28 off 9) went on a six-hitting spree to take CSK to a fighting 176 for six.

In reply, skipper KL Rahul (82) and Quinton de Kock (54) batted with authority during their match-winning alliance of 134, the highest partnership for any wicket at the Ekana Stadium, as LSG scored 180 for 2 in 19 overs to recover from back-to-back loss and consolidate their position in the table.

Fleming credited LSG openers for their big partnership.

"It was a tough game. We certainly struggled to get any momentum throughout the game. To win that match, we would have had to do something similar to what they did which is to take wickets throughout but the opening stand was a match winning one," he said.

"And we couldn't create the pressure because they are used to the pace of the pitch and if we got wickets throughout we could have put pressure on their order here,' Fleming concluded. PTI AH AH SSC SSC

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