Chennai Super Kings may be playing their 10th IPL final, but there's a tinge of nervousness as if it's their first. Stephen Fleming, their head coach, believes that isn't necessarily a bad thing ahead of Sunday, when they take on Gujarat Titans at their home venue in Ahmedabad.
"We're excited, but there's a bit of nervousness as well," Fleming said at the pre-final press conference. "It's a big stage, a big occasion, and there's a lot of work that goes into getting to this point. We're proud of what we've done, and we're looking forward to the opportunity."
Fleming was asked to elaborate on why he felt there was nervousness. After all, CSK have won four titles, next only to Mumbai Indians, who have five. Shouldn't there be an air of intimidation about them, then?
"It's a big occasion, the game doesn't change, but the outcome does; it's really hard not to look too far ahead," Fleming explained. "And the dream is of winning it again, right from the coach to a guy who hasn't played a game. To be part of that [final] is what we set out to do at the start, that's our purpose. Trying to contain that excitement and trying to stay in the present is one of the great challenges as we get towards the end of the tournament.
"We've got to stay very present against Gujarat, one of the most consistent sides in the tournament. They're an excellent side, and we can't afford to dream too much, but this is why we're here. The excitement levels and the nerves of the big stage slowly simmer away, but it's a good thing to have, it's just how you work with them in your system.
"We've worked very hard at that. We've got some good people around us. We look forward to this challenge, but you have to have a certain level of anxiety and nervousness to be at your best, I guess. It's about how you manage that and how quickly you can sync into the game. That's what we will be looking to do."
Fleming then offered a perspective on why it's so difficult to win the IPL. It may seem he's being modest at first, but as he peeled off different layers to managing a team, the emotions, results and staying balanced, there was a sense in why he and MS Dhoni keep focusing on "process" as a buzzword.
"It's a big process," Fleming started. "What I will say is margins between success and failure have gotten closer and closer each year. We may have been ninth [in 2022] or seventh [in 2020], and you look back, and there are a number of games that could've gone differently. Maybe, last-ball finishes or a great performance. So they're small defining moments that determine where you finish on the log.
"It's just getting closer and closer as teams get smarter about the players they pick or conditions they play in. This year's been no different, it's been the hardest. Each team you come up against it feels like an incredibly difficult challenge. The thing we're really proud of is that when we've had a bad season, we've been able to bounce back.
"A part of it is to do with how we finish a bad season. We're always looking for the positives, giving players opportunities that we can work into the following year; we don't write it off. There are a lot of things to learn when a season goes well, but equally, a lot more things to learn when it doesn't. So, we're always looking to get better.
"We are realistic about how difficult it is to get to this stage. That's why we are proud of our record of being consistent over a period of time. The greatest challenge of this competition is when you get a new team that's going really well, you've got to disband, and you can only keep four players. The fact that we've been able to stay consistent with those rules in place is something we look back very proudly on."
Fleming also underlined how playing on different types of surfaces in Chennai this time, as against playing on just the one kind of surface that they're accustomed to at home, has geared them up to be a better team away.
"[In the past] we geared ourselves up for Chennai so well that we struggled in different conditions at times in the away games," Fleming said. "So, the finals are always a little bit of a challenge, our record is about 50% [won four, lost five finals] maybe, that's due to the style of game that we created.
"The victim of being so good at home is that we had to make adjustments when we went to a neutral venue. This year we're a bit more rounded, we've had to be because of that reason. Going back to Chennai [this season] was hard [in terms of conditions]. I wanted to bowl [first vs Mumbai], MS was the other way and in Qualifier 1, it was the opposite. So we were well off the mark in trying to get the conditions right, but this time around, the team is rounded enough to put performances together come the finals. We're not too worried about the conditions we will get. We're mentally in a lot better place than what we've been in the past."