Stephen Fleming, the unsung hero of Chennai Super Kings

Lakshmipati Balaji and Stephen Fleming
Lakshmipati Balaji and Stephen Fleming (PC: X)

Lakshmipati Balaji and Stephen Fleming (PC: X)He is the odd man out. In the ruthless world of franchise cricket, where coaches are on a merry-go-round, Stephen Fleming represents stability. He played for Chennai Super Kings in 2008. Next year, he became the team’s head coach. He has been at the helm since.

MS Dhoni is the face of CSK. Fleming is happy to play second fiddle. He comes to press conferences but never boasts his presence despite the fact that he is the most successful coach in the IPL, with five titles under his watch. Fleming is part of the CSK family. He also looks after Joburg Super Kings and Texas Super Kings.

Make no mistake, Fleming doesn’t have an anodyne presence in the dressing room. He is pretty hands-on, someone who improves players. And there is a reason why he has earned the trust of his players and the CSK management. Former India medium pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji, who worked closely with Fleming as CSK’s bowling coach, calls Fleming a “very important man” in the franchise’s success.

“I think Flem has done a very good job for CSK over the years. He is a very, very important man. He and Dhoni go hand in hand and they combine really well,” Balaji said, speaking to RevSportz. But what are the standout features of Fleming’s coaching? “When it comes to coaching and man management, Flem has done a super job for CSK. He has kept a low profile, but from preparation to communication with the players, he has been superb. He keeps the dressing room atmosphere in great shape. And he is a very, very good man manager,” Balaji explained.

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Stephen Fleming
Stephen Fleming (PC: X)

Sometimes when a high profile and a successful captain becomes a coach, he carries a strong ego to his new job. It becomes a little difficult for him to take a back seat and allow the captain to be at the forefront. Greg Chappell had failed miserably in this regard as India coach. Fleming has been a massive success at CSK because he didn’t mind being a support-act to Dhoni despite his pedigree as a player and a former New Zealand captain of repute.


Over the years, Fleming and Dhoni have gelled brilliantly and the team benefitted from that. “Dhoni’s leadership skills we all know. But the way he and Fleming combine together and produce the results for CSK has been great. This is something that I haven’t seen anywhere else in modern-day cricket. They have a lot of conversations behind the doors and they combine together when it comes to decision-making,” said Balaji. “They both respect each other. They both are very good leaders, one on the field and one off the field. It’s very important to find the right combination when it comes to leadership. That is exactly what CSK have found over the years,” he added.

In the IPL, coaching stints are usually short, lasting two-three years. CSK have been an aberration. They have thrived on stability. So how much has that played a part in the team’s success? “I think, from the owner’s perspective and the management’s perspective, they have done a phenomenal job over the years. They have kept their leadership group intact over the years. They haven’t done any cut and chop. They have given them a freehand. No wonder that they have produced so many results. See, CSK (management) have been handling cricket for 50 years. They know how to handle a cricket team. It’s a great combination between the management and the leadership group,” Balaji observed.

MS Dhoni with Stephen Fleming
MS Dhoni with Stephen Fleming (PC: Subhayan)

Coming back to Fleming, a coach is also judged by his ability to improve players, especially youngsters. From that perspective, how much has Fleming contributed to the cause? “Over the years, Fleming has made a real impact in terms of improving the players. A lot of players have benefited from their association with Fleming. They have gone on to play for India or their respective countries. Two players I can name instantly who have benefited from honing their skills under Fleming, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis,” said Balaji.

During a conversation with CSK chief executive Kasi Viswanathan ahead of this year’s IPL opener, the senior administrator was talking about the team philosophy. Respect oozed, every time he spoke about Dhoni and Fleming – the two pillars of CSK’s success.

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