Tristan Stubbs, from a back-up to 'must-keep' for next season

Jaffer: Stubbs has been a better finisher than Klaasen (3:13)

ESPNcricinfo's experts talk about how he finds new ways to find boundaries (3:13)

If you were told at the start of IPL 2024 that a South African batter, who can keep wickets no less, would be the fastest striker at the death this season, you wouldn't be blamed for guessing Heinrich Klaasen. And you wouldn't be too far off with that guess, but it's Tristan Stubbs who has emerged as the premier finisher (minimum 100 runs). Oh, and he is also the first, and so far the only, player to score 200 runs in the last four overs this season.

He achieved that distinction with a match-defining 57 not out off 25 balls against Lucknow Super Giants in DC's last league game.

Stubbs finished the season with a death-overs strike rate of 297.33 - the highest in an IPL season ever for a minimum of 100 runs. He faced 75 balls in this phase, of which only two were dots.

But the season could have gone very differently for Stubbs if DC had stuck to their Plan A. England batter Harry Brook, who was bought at the auction for INR 4 crore, was the first choice in the middle order.

"If Harry Brook would have been there then Stubbs' chances [would have been reduced]. Stubbs was actually a back-up," DC assistant coach Pravin Amre said at the post-match press conference. "But it was important that we picked a good back-up. In SA20, he had done very well, he contributed to the winning team there, and we were very hopeful that he could do [well], because he got a triple-hundred in first-class cricket also.

"He is a cricketer who can play well against spinners also and that is the biggest plus we saw. And he also looks like he is very hungry for success, very composed. He always makes his routine very well, and is very focused."

Stubbs came to DC having spent two years as a back-up option at Mumbai Indians. He made just four appearances across those two seasons.

But Brook pulled out of the IPL following his grandmother's death, and that opened up a slot for Stubbs, who cemented it with his exceptional hitting abilities at the death.

Stubbs was one of the few positives amid a dreadful start to DC's season, which saw them win just one of their first five games. It was only fitting that he finished the season with a knock that helped them go past the 200 when at one point it looked like they would finish closer to 180.

Coming out to bat in the 12th over on Tuesday, Stubbs started slow, getting to 7 off his first nine balls.

"It was quite tough when I walked in," Stubbs told the host broadcaster between innings. "I didn't feel like I could get myself any intensity. But we got a bit of flow going and we managed to put some runs on the board."

Stubbs got going in the 16th over, pumping an Arshad Khan length ball down the ground for six. With the left-arm seamer angling it across him, Stubbs stood with his back foot outside off stump, and his front foot around middle and leg. This allowed him to access balls going outside off. Two balls later, Arshad again angled it away from him, and Stubbs hit it straight of the long-off fielder for four.

His first two boundaries came in the V, but he was about to start expanding his range. The next ball was an attempted yorker outside off and Stubbs was quick to launch a reverse scoop over the wicketkeeper and a very fine short third for another boundary.

When Mohsin Khan tried to go full and wide, Stubbs was again able to get close enough to the line due to his stance and loft it for a six over long-off, despite not middling it.

Then came the all-important 19th over. Against Naveen-ul-Haq, Stubbs ditched his back-and-across stance. When Naveen dug in a slower one outside off, Stubbs stayed leg side of the ball and flat-batted it wide of long-on for four. Another back-of-length slower ball was hit high onto the second tier of the pavilion over long-on for a 101-metre monster.

His most elegant shot was perhaps the one that brought him his half-century, off 22 balls, as he leant into a full delivery and lofted it wide of long-off.

"I always feel I can give myself a bit of time and then can catch up later on," Stubbs said. "Especially if you get one or two away and the bowler feels some pressure, then you've got a lot of momentum."

"I can see that this is a player for the next five years if we can go there," Amre said. "And the temperament he has shown. Even after ten balls, he was 6-7 runs. But so many times he has done that. [In] 22 balls he got a fifty. In today's game, 19th over he got 21 runs. That really mattered for our victory."

Tom Moody, speaking on ESPNcricinfo's TimeOut show, said that Stubbs was playing the finisher's role like an experienced player.

"The way he is finishing games, it's like he's been doing it for ten years," Moody said. "He's been composed, his shot selection is absolutely bang on and he's not trying to overhit the ball, but he still hits it for miles. So he's been a real find for Delhi Capitals.

"I think he didn't get a regular opportunity and he was quite young when he was in the Mumbai squad; he was an evolving player. He was still finding his way. Where he really took off was the SA20, and he had a good season for the championship-winning side. So I think he has gained confidence, he is getting more opportunities. With opportunities, he is repaying that faith."

In SA20 2024, Stubbs made 301 runs for Sunrisers East Cape at a strike rate of 168.15. Only two players who scored more than him scored quicker. In the IPL, he took his finishing game to a different level.

Moody, who has plenty of experience coaching in franchise leagues, suggested that Stubbs should be high on DC's list of players they want to retain ahead of next year's mega auction.

"At the end of the day, when you look at retentions, whether it is overseas or Indian players, you look at the supply and demand, and there are not too many players in world cricket who can finish like that. So it makes him exclusive. So he is a must-keep."

And it's not just his finishing skills. He is an excellent fielder and can also roll his arm over if needed. On Tuesday, he took just three balls to get Ayush Badoni holing out in the eighth over.

He has bowled just two overs of his part-time offspin this season and picked up three wickets for 15 runs, which means he finishes with the best batting and bowling average for DC.

Stubbs came into the season not guaranteed opportunities. By the end of it, he became someone DC would hate to have to let go.