Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Cricket: Prolific Popli makes case for NZ

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Northetn Districts batsman Bharat Popli pulls a boundary four in the cricket match against the Auckland Aces at Bay Oval yesterday. 23 October 2015 Bay of Plenty Times Photograph by John Borren &#
Northetn Districts batsman Bharat Popli pulls a boundary four in the cricket match against the Auckland Aces at Bay Oval yesterday. 23 October 2015 Bay of Plenty Times Photograph by John Borren &#

Bharat Popli is making the New Zealand selectors take notice as his golden summer continues.

The 25-year-old from Tauranga has scored three centuries in the Plunket Shield with a career-high 172 in the match against Central Districts in progress at Seddon Park, Hamilton.

He batted for nearly seven hours in the first innings and then yesterday scored a fluent 66 in the second innings to lead the Plunket Shield tally with 942 runs. His first-class batting average is now at a healthy 47.79 after 30 innings.

Popli learnt his craft at Tauranga Intermediate and Tauranga Boys' College and a former classmate at intermediate, Doug Bracewell, made life tough on a green pitch at the start of the first innings.

But Popli got through the early stages to flourish in the back half of his mammoth total. He batted in a 258-run partnership with another former Tauranga Boys' batsman in Knights captain Daniel Flynn, who scored 158 to extend his Northern Knights record to 19 centuries and pass 5000 first class runs for the Knights.

"That innings was probably the scratchiest hundred I have scored in a long time but it is always nice spending time out in the middle and the more time you spend out there the more you can learn," Popli said. "The first couple of seasons I was battling for a while so I am happy with how it is going. Coming out of those tough seasons the first game when I got 94 against Wellington really gave me some confidence going forward.

"The work done over the winter set me up well and I have just been fortunate enough that I have been able to convert starts into bigger scores."

Popli was the same year at Tauranga Boys' as Black Caps captain Kane Williamson, who led his team to an historic victory over India in the ICC World Twenty20 opener on Wednesday.

"He is a massive inspiration," Popli said. "When you grow up with someone and then see him perform on the big stage and really dominate world cricket, it gives you confidence that maybe you can do it as well. He has done so much for Bay cricket and Northern Districts. Everyone who grew up around him has really cherished that."

Popli was still at school when he made a century on debut for Bay of Plenty against Hamilton in the 2008/09 season.

He has struck nine centuries for the Bay, five more than the previous record of four, shared by Richard Shrimpton, Mike Wright and Mathew Hart.

Last weekend's lifting of the Hawke Cup by Bay of Plenty was a real team effort from a unified group of which 10 of the successful 11 players went to Tauranga Boys'.

"I kinda wish I had been there with them," Popli said. "Two years ago we defended the Hawke Cup throughout the season so it is obviously quite special for all the boys there to win the cup back."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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