Stephen Fleming in the field ahead of the match

Stephen Fleming: 'We don't have a secret formula. Our strength is delivering on our philosophy'

One of the lynchpins of Chennai Super Kings' success in the IPL talks about the franchise's philosophy and their belief in creating an environment where people feel they belong

Interview by Sidharth Monga  |  

Stephen Fleming is one of the most successful coaches in T20 cricket, having led Chennai Super Kings to five title wins in the IPL. He is also one of the cleverest thinkers in the game: modern but not at the cost of the traditions that make the sport tick. We spoke when his other team, Texas Super Kings, made it to the MLC playoffs in 2023. I drew a lot from an interview with him from six years ago. The conversation was about how much T20 cricket has changed, and how CSK manage to be such a consistent side in such a dynamic environment.

Congratulations. Another Super Kings team has made another playoff. What's the secret for this franchise? Everybody talks about consistency and calmness.
Yeah, there's a little bit of that. Keeping things pretty simple. There's a lot of temptation to dive into many things: analytics, high-performance, different practices from other sports. But I think the principle we keep coming back to is, one, keep it simple. Two, create an environment where the players feel some sense of belonging, which, given the amount of cricket that's being played, is sometimes a challenge. But it's something we try and do - that whenever a player joins the camp or returns to the squad, they have a strong sense of belonging as to what they're joining or what they need to do.

And I guess, again, that calmness and consistency and selection. It's no secret that we like to retain as many players as possible. We like to have consistency with our coaching staff, and that cohesion allows us to get to know players fractionally quicker, maybe, than other teams that chop and change a little bit more. With the number of tournaments on, players are asked basically just to pull on a duty and perform. So we [try to] create an environment that's just a little bit different, to give them the feeling that there's a little bit more of sense of pride and purpose.

Creating an environment where somebody feels they belong is easier said than done. How do you do it?
Well, we try. And, look, for some we probably don't reach that goal, but for a majority of players, when they finish with the Super Kings, they finish with fond memories. So that's really important that they leave Super Kings with a positive outlook to their contribution. Some haven't even played, which can be very tough, but we take note of what players say once they've left. I think it's important that they have enjoyed their shared experience with us. So how do you achieve that?

"We don't go out here with a set plan of 'This is what you need to do to interact in the Super Kings.' It's about creating an environment where it'll naturally take place"

I guess some genuine interaction. The subtleties of managing people [come into play] - just being very honest, being very well-planned with them, so that their roles are clear and defined. Upfront with players with our expectations and also spending genuine time listening to them and getting to know them. On a deeper level rather than just the cricketer, what defines that person?

Again, it's easier to say than do because it does take a lot of energy, and that's why we like the extra time. If we can retain players for longer, we feel that gives us time to get to know people a little bit deeper.

Do you split spending this energy among yourselves as the coaching staff, maybe yourself and Eric Simons, who has been around, or do you take it mostly on yourself?
Everyone has that responsibility, even player to player. It's really important that we create an environment where young Indian players are talking to experienced West Indies players, or Australian and New Zealand players are talking to each other - which is unheard of!

As far as the coaches go, they tend to sort of work with their department. So if it's Mike Hussey with the batting, his relationship with the batters will grow quicker, and Eric likewise with the bowlers. I sort of hover above with MS [Dhoni] and just try and have an overall view of getting to know these guys and spending that time.

We are family: Fleming says creating a sense of belonging is a core principle for the CSK franchise

We are family: Fleming says creating a sense of belonging is a core principle for the CSK franchise Ron Gaunt / © BCCI

There are team rooms, which are really important, and that's where the players spend a lot of time, because it's really hard, in particular in India, to go out and do a lot of activities. So setting up a hotel environment that feels good and that will create natural interaction [is important]. The last thing you want is for it to be very forced, so we don't go out here with a set plan of "This is what you need to do to interact in the Super Kings." It's creating an environment where it'll naturally take place.

And that goes at MLC and SA20 or wherever Super Kings play?
Yeah, we certainly try to take that blueprint wherever we go. [It's] quite easy to replicate in terms of endeavour, if not necessarily with the result. With each new team, with different personalities and countries we play in, there's unique challenges and we've got to be mindful of those as well.

One of the things that doesn't get spoken about a lot is the pre-season. That's where I guess a lot of this work, especially with the newer players, happens. Can you give us a glimpse into what your pre-season is like?
I have a bit of a backseat role there. Given the age of some of the players and amount of cricket they're playing, our pre-season has extended over the last few years. So MS takes a very strong role there and he needs some volume, so he goes in early and players just gravitate towards that. And it enables young Indian players to reconnect, and then international players who've had commitments, they tend to come in a little bit later.

The big benefits that our local Indian players get is, one, time to spend with MS, and two, a chance to get back into the system. One of the great challenges that we are finding at the moment is our domestic players' workload is incredibly high through their domestic season. So when they come to us, they're either broken or quite fatigued. So having the opportunity to manage that with our physio and trainer, who go over early, that's really important, so that in a month's time they'll be ready to play. That's one of the great challenges at the moment: young Indian players are playing a huge amount of cricket, so having that longer pre-season gives them a chance to fill the tank back up.

"If you just keep prescribing what you need to do and putting out times in the nets and saying, this is what you need to achieve, the player is not thinking about what they need to do to get better"

The domestic season is now very tight, so there's not a lot of gap between games, and we are finding the injuries are increasing. It's not necessarily what franchises are doing to young players, it's how we receive them. That's becoming more of an issue, and we understand why, because domestic sides want the best out of these players, because primarily they are the best players that are coming through. So we understand the need for performance there, but managing workload might become an issue just for these young players moving forward in Indian cricket.

The one thing that has always been true about Super Kings teams is that there's no compulsory training session. If somebody doesn't want to train, they don't. If they want to train on just one thing on a day, they're allowed to do that. But after the season that you had in 2022, when you finished joint last, do you still allow that autonomy to the players?
Yeah, we did. We're a big believer that as soon as the player wakes up, they're planning their day and that can be going to practice or not, which is one. Two, if you go to practice, what do you want to achieve? And three, throughout the day, doing things that are going to make you better. So because training is optional, there are things that the players will be doing that will make them better - work maybe on breathing or the mental side of the game, but if they choose to go to training and feel that training's what they want, they should have a clear plan themselves.

And then, when we talk, we get great coaching opportunities because you get to hear from the player how they're feeling - which could be exactly what the coaches are thinking. So you get a really good opportunity to coach where both are on the same page, or they can have a good discussion around where they think things aren't quite going right. If you just keep prescribing what you need to do and putting out times in the nets and saying, this is what you need to achieve, the player is not thinking about what they need to do to get better.

Cricket's actually a selfish game wrapped around some team components. Players are so unique in the way they approach cricket, and the game is so unique, and often we don't embrace that in our training methods. We feel that by giving them the autonomy to do what they think is best for them, it allows us to shape a programme for that individual which will ultimately help the team.

Bowling coach Eric Simons, who has worked with South Africa, India, and Delhi Daredevils in the past, has been a key member of the Super Kings backroom

Bowling coach Eric Simons, who has worked with South Africa, India, and Delhi Daredevils in the past, has been a key member of the Super Kings backroom © BCCI

And despite the results that you had last year, are you confident in your method to give them that autonomy?
Yeah. It's one that we really believe in. We look at the development of the player. Are we seeing signs of improvement in a player? And that pretty much a 100% is yes because they're working on things that they need to work on rather than being told just to bowl a certain amount of time. So when we see the development of a player, in terms of a coach's job description that's pretty much it.

Does it prescribe us to winning all the time? No, of course not, because there are other things involved, but primarily in the camp as a group of coaches, you want to get that whole group of players moving forward, and I think this allows us to do that best. Keep in mind it's a short space of time as well. We don't have 12 months with these players, so we are in some cases looking to really throw a lot of information and for others you're looking just to add bits and pieces.

Just going back to pre-season camps. For instance, at CSK, did you discuss and work at consistently going for over-par scores when batting first, which was not one of the strengths of CSK in the 2022 season?
Yeah, there's been a change, just a strategic change and that's partly by design, partly by the rules that were put on us in terms of the Impact Player. We saw that as an opportunity to revamp the way we wanted to play, and the personnel that we are quite dynamic. So freeing players up and embracing the Impact Player rule.

So one of our mantras was to play faster - not just with bat and ball but around the field as well. Play faster than the opposition. If that's one more six or one more yorker, that could be enough to win the tournament, and it was pretty close actually, if you look at the [2023] final.

"Once you give someone a role like that [of a hitter], you've got to be willing to accept failures. If we see enough intent during training and see the form is good, then we've been able to wait just a little bit longer than other teams"

We can say, hey, you've got an Impact Player, now you've got to score faster, but how do you go about doing that? Which is where you come in.
Well, you go back to the philosophy, go back to the coaching method. So now our coaching method is empowering a [Shivam] Dube, who can be frustrating at times but is incredibly gifted with the power that he has. He's actually your perfect model, your perfect player for an Impact Player role. So what can we provide during training now to get him into that mindset? Often you're trying to make a player everything, but when you simplify a plan and just give them that role, then it can often free the player up.

The other player I want to talk about is Ajinkya Rahane. MS spent quite a bit of time with him in pre-season, and he'd had a career where he had been told to bat through an innings. Our assessment was that it just held Jinks back from being the player that he could be. So once we settled on our philosophy, it was clear. Jinks initially didn't make the side, but the way he was training was so free and so beautiful that we were sure when his opportunity came that he would make an impact. And his first game exceeded expectation, and it reinforced to us that a simple philosophy and plan would allow these players to perhaps go to another level rather than trying to work on every little fault or every aspect that hasn't been right.

Let's concentrate on their strengths, and in Dube's case it was: just start with hitting spinners. So if you can hit spinners down through overs seven to 11 or 12, it's going to have an impact on the opposition. There was a short-ball issue and we didn't really address it, we just used the confidence that he had hitting the spinners. It took three, four, five games before his impact really came to the fore. But once it did, he was dynamic and an absolute highlight for us, and he was consistent.

The other aspect is trust. Once you give someone a role like that, you've got to be willing to accept the failures. I think that's one thing we have had over a period of time. If we see enough intent during training and see the form is good, then we've been able to wait just a little bit longer than other teams, maybe, to make a change. And by doing that we just give the player a bit of confidence that they can continue on that path. And that has seemed to provide dividends for us as well. May not be in the first half of the tournament but potentially the back half. And in Shane Watson's case, the final a few years ago.

The beast unleashed: Shivam Dube was set a clear brief.

The beast unleashed: Shivam Dube was set a clear brief. "We don't really want him looking for ones and twos," Fleming says. "Hit as soon as you feel ready. Just start hitting" R Parthibhan / © AFP

So Dube, for example, just tries to hit spin in the nets?
Oh, he just tries to hit sixes. His hitting is based around just hitting bowlers and nothing else, because that's the role we want him to play. All the other stuff will come - we don't really want him looking for ones and twos, that'll be a byproduct of a mishit or of getting through a fast bowling spell that he has to, otherwise it's just, "Hit as soon as you feel ready. Just start hitting."

Coming to Rahane - the last time we spoke you said, "The only time I'm not happy with the player is when they're not playing their game, which means they're under pressure", and Rahane was an example you used, saying that if he is going to try to hit six sixes an over, he is not playing his game. But now he's doing just that. So apart from, of course, MS speaking to him, technically what kind of work did you put into his game to get him to do that?
Nothing. It was purely the mentality of shaking off that label that had been strongly stuck to him. The evolution of the game [has been such that] you don't need players batting through, and with an extra Impact Player, even more so. And I'll be honest, I was surprised at how free Jinks got mentally. He was in such a good space, and he was just such a delight to watch. Even his net sessions were just so precise and aggressive and powerful that it was extraordinary watching that transition in a small space of time. And again, just that reassurance from MS was enough for Jinks to go, yep, and [derive] the confidence that that's how we wanted him to play. If it doesn't work, just keep going. Even try to hit it harder. It reflected in his training and his confidence when he went out to bat.

Has the Impact Player rule kind of done its job in that even if it's not there, you can now be freer than before because you don't actually end up needing the Impact Player many a time? Will that freedom seep into the game when there is no impact player? Or even into ODIs?
Yeah, I think so. It has just given players evidence that it's okay to play that way. I think the game was heading that way. Each year we're having to play faster as the skill level increases and players get more confident. We've seen that it's a natural progression, but I think this maybe sped the process up a little bit more and highlighted that if players weren't doing it, they needed to do so.

But the other aspect is the bowlers. It's now a great challenge for bowlers because the rules really are stacking up against them. Usually if you've got five or six wickets, you are right in the mix of getting some softer overs as a bowling group, but now with batters coming all the way down, the greatest challenge is keeping bowlers in the game and making sure they're not just bowling machines for these power-hitters.

"Chennai Super Kings have always been inquisitive about the game, but we've gotten back to a beautiful simplicity where sometimes to buck the trend is to go back to the future"

I was just coming to bowling. CSK had an inexperienced attack. What went into making them a serviceable unit?
It was quite a bit of head-scratching really, because we were well down on resources and the attack we thought we might start with [in 2023] was nowhere near it with the injuries. So straight away we felt under pressure to create a plan that would make us competitive, and that meant introducing new players - not just introducing new players in the squad but introducing new players from outside the squad. So we really had to dig deep to find a bowling group that was capable of withstanding some of these onslaughts, and spin was always going to be a key part. So we were well covered with spin, but the overseas bowlers, with [Maheesh] Theekshana and Matheesha [Pathirana] were really important aspects. Up until the sort of third and fourth game, we were having to be defensively really good. But when we got a couple more [bowlers], we were able to attack a little bit more. Wickets were still important, but our defensive game was pretty strong.

So a lot of work with the bowling group, with Eric Simons. [Dwayne] Bravo of course joined the bowling group as well. His work around the death and helping players understand what defensive bowling looks like was really important. And for us, again, learning what these players can do.

Tushar Deshpande would never have featured in probably the starting XI of most pundits, but he played a key role throughout, did a great job for us. So when players are given opportunities, you often unearth gems. And some of the diamonds we got to strengthen the squad were important, and a nice luxury for us going forward hopefully.

Is the pre-season work for them different to how it is for the batters?
A lot different. Going back to managing workloads, we had so many injuries coming off that domestic season that it was early rehab that the bowlers were doing. Some were just ticking over but it was rehab and rest. We had a long injury list, we were losing players, overseas players - Kyle Jamieson as well. So we were really under the pump. It was all about getting players back on the park and getting some bowling into them.

One of the interesting things now with so many teams under one umbrella is that in the IPL you're plotting against Faf du Plessis, and in MLC and the SA20 you're working with him as your captain. How does that work?
Well it's great. It's great because there is continuity, and we've worked with Faf for a number of years. Yes, we were really disappointed that we couldn't retain him [at CSK], but that's often the case when a player does so well - you know, the premium keeps going up and up, and he was one of those players that it was very hard not to put the paddle up to keep bidding for him. But the upside was that we can now still work with him as part of the Super Kings family. And with Joburg and MLC, you go back to our philosophy, that continuation of relationships and development of relationships. Yes, we don't have him in the IPL, but he's still part of us around the world, and the way he plays the game and what we've learned from him, it was just a natural fit.

Do you have to keep secrets from him?
No, we tell him the things that he should do so that we can try and get an advantage. Look, there's the odd chat. You go, "Oh this is not crossing lines." But we love Faf, the franchise loves Faf, and we want to see him do well, of course, but there's not a lot of CSK when [it's] a TSK [being discussed].

So you're not worried he might take something to another team and turn them into another Super Kings team?
No, we haven't got a secret bunker where the success code pops out. And even as I share it with you now, I think most people are aware of how our franchise operates.

And again, you go back to what you said: it's easy to talk about, but the true strength of it is living it day by day and actually being able to deliver what your philosophy stands for. So we don't hide away from that because it's not a secret formula. It's actually how you do it and the people you do it with.

So no, we are happy to talk and share, and I know Faf has some very strong beliefs around that. The synergies are strong, so we know he is trying to do that with Bangalore, and we know what other teams are trying to do, and that's why the IPL is so close, because of the sharing of information and ideas between players and also coaches through these other leagues. There's no point trying to be secretive about it.

You can't take CSK out of the man: current batting and bowling lieutenants Mike Hussey and Dwayne Bravo, former Chennai players, like Fleming, on the sidelines of a game last year

You can't take CSK out of the man: current batting and bowling lieutenants Mike Hussey and Dwayne Bravo, former Chennai players, like Fleming, on the sidelines of a game last year © BCCI

Is it exhausting to manage, to, as you said, live it every day? To work with different players every day, with all the many challenges?
Yeah, it can. Sometimes you just need to tap out for a little bit. The IPL is a long season. I look back to one of our seasons during Covid - for me personally, there were a lot of things that were sapping energy just around what Covid was and the uncertainties of travel and being away from loved ones at the time. And I look back at my energy levels through that campaign and it was very low. So in terms of living and breathing what the team needed, I was below par there.

I think sometimes you can fake a little bit of energy and get through it, but if you want to get genuine results, your authenticity [should] shine through. So I think coaches just as much as players have to be careful now about how many roles they take on, and planning your year might be about how many times you say no to opportunities rather than yes. The way the cricket landscape is these days, there's just so much opportunity to work and be part of the game we love, but you've got to make sure you do justice to it, and have that energy and recharge both mentally and physically.

I'm just going back to the interview that we did six years ago, where we spoke about the future of T20. One of the things we disagreed on was retiring batters out. Six years on, it's almost commonplace.
Don't say it's commonplace. Not commonplace.

All right, but it is happening.
Once, twice. It's not common. If Ashwin is involved, it's common. But anyone else, not so much, but it's there.

I know the point you make - Ashwin is not in the team for his batting, so it's easier for him to make a decision, but we have seen batters also do it. But where do you stand on it now?
Well, it's still an interesting play and we have discussed it. There have been times, and I will concede, yes, there's been discussions around optimising the state of play for a key player to go in, but at this stage we haven't really pulled the trigger. The other aspect to it is making sure as a team you are aware of it, because if you just do it out of the blue - you go back to relationships - the player who's in the middle, it can actually be quite a devastating thing to be pulled from the field. So you've just got to make sure that you sign off on it as a team, that what you are doing is team-first rather than coming up with this rule.

"The competition is like nothing else that I'm involved in. It's so close and so intense. You create a team that you work really hard on for three, maybe four, years and then have to rip it apart and start again"

How close did you get to retiring someone out?
Pretty close.

Enough for the guy in the middle to know that it might happen?
Close enough to have a discussion afterwards to say how close we were.

That's typical Flem.
Yeah, yeah.

Are we close to guys saying, "Forget the singles, I fancy this bowler, this is my match-up. Even if there's a specialist batter at the other end, I will not take a single. I back myself to hit a couple of sixes in this over"? Oh, I know some teams are really looking at that. I think Jos Buttler - there were whispers I heard [that] one game there was a match-up against an offspinner where he was keen to take all six balls. [Don't know] if that's true or not but it made sense at the time. Yeah, if they have a real feel for it, then I do think it is going to come to the game.

Do you think CSK has become, or any Super Kings team has become, more open to these things? Because generally the impression of Super Kings has been of a very pragmatic team, who did what they knew best. But are you more open to, for want of a better word, slightly funkier things than before?
Yeah, we've never been closed to it. We've always have been inquisitive about the game, but we've gotten back to a beautiful simplicity where sometimes to buck the trend is to go back to the future.

Conditions determine a lot. We do focus a lot on conditions and how best to play on a surface and what is required. So we pride ourselves to try and get the best team for most conditions, but in particular, home conditions, where you can get an advantage. But yeah, I know we have that sort of conservative reputation, [of being] pragmatic, but there are a lot of discussions about how we can push the boundary, and often it would come back to, "No, we keep doing what we're doing."

Tushar Deshpande, CSK's top wicket-taker last season, with 21 wickets,

Tushar Deshpande, CSK's top wicket-taker last season, with 21 wickets, "would never have featured in probably the starting XI of most pundits, but he played a key role throughout, did a great job for us," Fleming says Aijaz Rahi / © Associated Press

But I think of late, as the game seems to be moving even faster, we're really… our bowlers in particular, looking at how we can re-equip bowlers to be a little bit more rewarded from the game.

Anything you want to share that you've been close to - something funky that you've been close to doing?
No, not really. I think most of it has sort of been turned over. The only thing has been around roles. We're not that funky where we're going to go out and create something new. Again that [may be called] pragmatic, but often it's about doing the simple things well or just opening players up and giving them the licence to be funky rather than adopting something outrageous.

If we found something outrageous, we would try it. Introducing a new [Lasith] Malinga [in Pathirana] was great for us. I still think there's a reason for trying to find things. Sometimes it's because you need to push the boundaries to compete, but if you are within the boundaries and competing well, then often doing that simply and beautifully and effectively can be as innovative as anything. But don't get me wrong, we are still pushing the boundaries, trying to find things within the game that will help us move forward.

One thing you've said about how you go about setting targets, which is the most difficult thing in T20, is where you start with a baseline score of maybe 160 and then you read the conditions in an over or two and go 180, 200. Is that still the way you bat or has it evolved into just going for higher scores regardless?
Yeah, I think it's sort of higher scores. I think a lot of the scores… that blueprint was right, but now, [it's] can you get 250? When guys are on, it's actually getting them to go to the next gear. Just see how far they can go and be willing to accept that there's going to be failure as well. So you've got to have a team that can be resilient enough to absorb that. That if it's a bad day, it's just pushed aside, you don't over-analyse too much. So the game is high-risk, high-reward - that's sort of where we're heading to, and the skills are allowing that to be the case. You look at the scores, I know there's a tweak in rule with the Impact Player, [but] scores were much higher per game or throughout the season than ever before.

"People think coaches know all the answers, but we have to get better as well - learn how to deal with pressure and finals and exhibit the right behaviours if we're going to preach it. A huge amount of learning has been done by the coaches"

Would you like to have players under a Super Kings contract so that they're playing for all three teams?
Yeah, I think going back to some of the principles that we like to adopt within the Chennai family - [one] is that consistency of selection. So that would fit nicely, and in a way it's sort of happening. There's a number of players that are involved in two, if not three, of our teams so far. Now the opportunity to do this is only just sort of emerging. It's the first year, really. In some ways everyone's still coming to grips with what exactly it means. Given the respect for international cricket and the respect to international home boards and where the franchise fits. So there's still a little bit of huffing and puffing and pushing and shoving, trying to work out where the balance is, and that's one of the great challenges of the cricket landscape at the moment.

You've won with CSK many times. Was this 2023 win the most satisfactory one?
Look, they're all incredibly satisfying. The competition is like nothing else that I'm involved in. It's so close and so intense. You create a team that you work really hard on for three, maybe four, years and then have to rip it apart and start again.

We talk about energy. Getting to know people emotionally can actually have quite a strong effect on you, especially if you have a team that perhaps in the last year of the cycle wins it and you finish on such a high. To then recreate that environment and look to do the things you did the year before you won, but [with] a completely different group of players - it's so unique, but one of the benefits of that evil is that the competition is so close. So every year and this year [2023], I think this year in particular, the margins were so small.

I think going into our last game, against Delhi, if we won that, we cemented a top two. If we lost that game, we'd go home. The last game of the season, all the way to this. So the whole way through you're just dealing with pressure and anxiety and outcomes.

We worked with a psychologist, Dave Reid, about not over-emphasising the outcome. But it's really hard not to when you're watching the table and just the ups and downs and the closeness of each game. Look, the eighth team, the tenth team, can beat the first team pretty easy on a given day. So whenever you get a bit of success and you've reached the finals [playoffs], which I think is your first mark, that's a good season. And then obviously you get to the final. That's a very good season. But to win it is incredibly satisfying because you know how big an achievement it is.

I guess being fortunate enough to experience it a few times - honestly, it doesn't wear off. [There was the] heartbreak of losing a couple of close ones. So then the euphoria of winning this last one, where it was there, it was gone, it was there, it was gone, it was gone, gone. And then there. It was extraordinary.

I probably do have to say 2018 was an emotional one because of the comeback and what the Super Kings had been through the [previous] couple of years. So to be able to come back and do that was something we were all very proud of. But it's only a smidgen ahead of the others. They're all very special and all well earned by the players, who did great jobs.

And you have come close to - within one ball - of winning two more. One with Pune and one with Chennai, when Malinga came up all that slower ball to deny you. So how do you bounce back from that feeling?
You don't. Honestly, it's just like you've been sucker-punched. It is just the most deflating feeling to get so close. You are almost… that last ball, when the bowler is running in or batter is facing, you just relive that hour after hour for days, weeks. Even now you still look back and just say, what if?

Where the buck stops: Fleming and Dhoni head the Super Kings brains trust

Where the buck stops: Fleming and Dhoni head the Super Kings brains trust Arjun Singh / © BCCI

This last game [2023 final], ten off two, you probably expect to lose that. So to have one go our way, yeah, it's almost a little bit of healing going on there that maybe makes up for one of the ones we should have won. But again, that's what finals should be. The teams are that close. That last ball, last over [finish] should define an IPL.

So one of the things to deal with it is to actually, while you know that you care, not care.
Yeah, I know. And in principle it's spot-on. But it means a lot because there's a lot of work that goes into it and there's a lot of emotion that goes with it. The players and the franchise, all the way down. It's just so unique what you're sort of striving to do that you can't help but sit back and look at outcomes. What if we win? This is a big game. I know there's no big games, but there are big games and there are big outcomes, and that creates an emotional energy that is intoxicating as well as devastating.

Do you have a psychologist traveling with you all the time?
Yeah, we've got a guy from Australia [Reid], who I met in Melbourne. He was a forensic psychologist and he's with the side sort of casually, not in a huge role. Just there as a tool because players these days have a number of pressures on the field, but they have more pressures off the field. If things aren't going quite right, the social-media aspect can be really harmful. So he can teach some breathing and some abilities to deal with pressure and anxiety and performance. The players get some tools to cope with disappointment or cope with anger from others and bad press and horrible social media, because it all comes. You lose a game, you're going to get it. And that's just a byproduct of being one of the most popular tournaments in the world. So yeah, we have introduced that over the last few years, and I think it's going to become an increasingly important role. It's incredibly tough being a player these days.

How do you run into a forensic psychologist?
Well, thankfully it wasn't because of something I was doing. It was more social. He had worked with criminals in Melbourne and through Australia. He has a really nice attitude towards the way he teaches and involves players and coaches.

"We're not that funky, where we're going to go out and create something new. Again that may be called pragmatic, but often it's about doing the simple things well or just opening players up and giving them the licence to be funky"

Primarily, it's [about] developing coaches, upskilling of coaches. People think that [coaches] know all the answers, but we have to get better as well. So part of it was so we could learn how to deal with pressure and finals and exhibit the right behaviours if we're going to preach it. So a huge amount of learning has been done by the coaches with Dave, and by the players on a more casual basis. Developing the coaches and getting them better as well is one of our goals.

And one of the challenges, again, with franchise teams is that, unlike in international cricket, you can't sort of build an empire. You have to regenerate every two, three years - just dismantle it and put it all back together. What's the cycle for this? How many years? Well, it's no secret. People openly criticised us about Dad's army, but it's a little bit by design because you don't have time necessarily to buy a whole group of young players and develop them in three years into a tournament-winning side. And by the time that last year [of the cycle] comes around, other teams are aware of them. So trying to work out the demographic of players or what sorts of players you want and the spread of players you need is a lot trickier than most social media pundits would think. It's not about just getting all the best players that we have and putting them together. There has to be a mix, but you've got to be conscious of time. We're only two months a year, really, in competition phase, and over three years that development has to be pretty meteoric if it's going to be a young player who's coming through.

Just two months together. But it's the most difficult competition in the world.
I think so, because of that fact of turning players over. You're always in a cycle. It's okay, you're developing, but there's always drama around the corner. And the IPL is full drama, it's full entertainment. You might be an injury away from exposing a hole in the side. You might have some off-field drama. You're always - because it's a large number of players and people - mindful that maintaining health all the way through is really important to success. Yeah, you have your sorts of ups and downs. It is a really intense two months.

And again, you go back to a playing XI where we are the most conservative around making changes to teams during a season. And that again is just to try and extend that form. Some franchises look at form in a traditional way, so two or three games and a player should be under pressure. But if you are asking a player to play a high-risk game, then surely you've got to give 'em a few more games than that to see if it's going to work. You've got to be really careful about your philosophy with your players and also, again, your philosophy around selection and making sure it marries up with the role you've asked them to do.

Do you still like to leave it to the leader on the field once they're on the field? Or do you now have more inputs during the game?
A 100%. Protecting that is one of the great gifts of the game. It's one of the only games that's played inside the ropes, and there's attempts to get more [people] involved but I am a firm believer that your captain is your key weapon out on the field. The work off the field is really important so that you understand each other, you understand the plan. But promoting that decision-making on the field is one of the beauties of our game.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo