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Tristan Stubbs - superb against spin, destructive at the death

After two seasons spent largely on the sidelines, the South African batter is showing the IPL what he can do

Himanshu Agrawal
Tristan Stubbs batted smartly towards the close, Delhi Capitals vs Mumbai Indians, IPL 2024, Delhi, April 27, 2024

Tristan Stubbs is having his breakout season in the IPL  •  BCCI

Who has the highest strike rate in the death overs in IPL 2024? If you're guessing Andre Russell, Heinrich Klaasen, or Dinesh Karthik, you'd be wrong. The most destructive batter at the finish this season, is Delhi Capitals' Tristan Stubbs.
After two years spent largely on the sidelines at Mumbai Indians, Stubbs is one of only five DC players to feature in all their 11 games so far this season. He may not have got his chance had it not been for a series of unfortunate events concerning the availability of DC's overseas players, including the late withdrawal of England sensation Harry Brook, but he did and he made it count.
"Some blokes are batting like it's a PlayStation game," Stubbs said of the fearless and relentless hitting this IPL season. He's played his part too. At present, Stubbs is DC's second highest run-scorer after Rishabh Pant with 277 at an average of 55 and strike rate of 186.
"This guy can play T20 cricket," was the first impression Stubbs left on Robin Peterson, the former South Africa left-arm spinner who coaches him at his domestic side Warriors. Since his debut as a 20-year-old in February 2021, 114 batters have scored at least 1500 runs in T20s, and Stubbs ranks tenth among them in terms of strike rate (155.58). That's better than Nicholas Pooran, Kieron Pollard, Shimron Hetmyer and David Miller who all play a similar role to Stubbs.
"Physically, he's a big guy," Peterson told ESPNcricinfo. "The thing which stands out about him is the ability to hit sixes, and his bat speed. It has just been about chatting how to manipulate the field - like play your reverse sweep, and get the sweeper a little finer. Then your extra-cover shot, your back-foot shot or you can play the spin off the front foot to extra cover."
Stubbs' game against spin has perhaps taken a few people by surprise this season - he's striking at 186 against both spin and pace, with averages of 40 and 79 respectively, making him hard to plan against. And among batters who have scored at least 50 runs in the death this IPL, Stubbs' strike rate of 292 is the best, and he's yet to be dismissed in that phase.
Stubbs' first innings of note in IPL 2024 came in their second game of the season, against Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur, the opponents they play in the reverse fixture Delhi on Tuesday. He converted a slow start into an explosive finish against R Ashwin and Sandeep Sharma, scoring 44 not out off 23 balls to take DC within 12 runs of the target of 186.
Against Kolkata Knight Riders in Visakhapatnam, Stubbs came in during the powerplay and soon showcased his strength by heaving Varun Chakravarthy for six over square leg off the inside part of his bat, and flat-batting him over long on too. He then used his long reach to launch Sunil Narine over extra cover, and over the midwicket boundary.
"He reads length well," Peterson said of Stubbs. "There are sweeps and reverse sweeps, and he always has a plan B to fall back on. He has the ability to manipulate, and he has got fast hands."
Stubbs made 54 off 32 balls against KKR, and improved on that in his next innings.
Chasing 235 against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede, Stubbs smashed 71 not out off 42 deliveries with seven sixes, an innings that was kickstarted by two powerful huge blows over deep midwicket off the legspin of Piyush Chawla. And when Gujarat Titans brought on left-arm spinner Sai Kishore to bowl the 19th over because they finally had a right-hander at the crease, Stubbs showed he was more than capable of destroying spinners who turn the ball away from him: he smashed Sai Kishore for 4, 6, 4, 6 on both the off and leg side.
"His work ethic is second to none," Peterson said. "And the ability to hit the ball behind the wicket makes bowlers tentative. So they miss their lengths, and batters are able to hit them back over their head for six. Those are unique skill sets, and they create doubt in bowlers' minds. And you're able to dominate them mentally in terms of what you're trying to do - or you confuse a bowler."
Stubbs showcased his behind-the-wicket range and inventiveness in the reverse fixture against MI in Delhi, where he scooped and reverse-scooped fast bowler Luke Wood for three fours and a six, before mowing him for two more boundaries towards deep midwicket. His unbeaten 48 off 25 balls powered DC to 257, their highest total in IPL history.
Despite Stubbs' having his breakout season, DC's wider problems have resulted in only five wins in 11 games, and they are in the bottom half of a mid-table scrum. With three games to go though, a strong finish could propel them towards the top four, and their Stubbs is in prime form to do the finishing.

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo