Chennai Super Kings head coach Stephen Fleming on Sunday admitted that they struggled to get their batting combination right during the first leg of the IPL, resulting in their maiden ouster from the tournament before the play-off stages.
While the ever-dependable Suresh Raina opted out due to personal reasons, young Ruturaj Gaikwad, who scored a hat-trick of fifties in their last three games, was sidelined by the COVID-19 initially.
"We had some challenges around the balance of the side. We have some setbacks, players leaving and COVID and we struggled really to find a combination suiting the conditions," Fleming said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
"At the start, we played our first three games in each of the venues. We did well in the first game but then got exposed in the couple of games.
"We felt we had holes in the team and then its all about trying to fill those spots. It just didn't quite click. The start of the tournament was incredibly frustrating," Fleming said after CSK finished the campaign on 12 points.
"We were in trouble without our Indian batters and we had to fill those gaps with international players."
Fleming was full of praise for Gaikwad and described the young right-hander as the next big thing for CSK as well as Indian cricket.
"He (Gaikwad) is a big story. We couldn't play him earlier, the COVID really knocked him around. We knew how good he was. One of the disappointment was that he was sick and the fact he hung around for so long," he said.
Fleming said that COVID-19 had physically impacted Ruturaj greatly.
"People underestimate what it (COVID) does to a player, physically as well as mentally. We tried to get him into the game really early on We always had in mind that he was going to be a key player.
"He played four games in a row and took his opportunity which is a testament of his ability. We are really pleased and now he is big candidate first going forward."
Fleming said he was delighted with the way CSK played in the second half of the league despite knowing that they are out of the play-offs reckoning.
"We stuck together really well and one of the focus was we keep getting better. We are lot more settled now and that's the reflection of our last three games.
"Obviously, the pressure had changed as well. When you re out of the tournament it changes the mental aspect of the side. We played with a bit of freedom and played how we can play," he said.