Cricket: Popli stands tall with 5th ton

The Bay of Plenty cricket honours board is stacked with names of players who scored centuries for the Bay before going on to play at first class level and on the international stage.

Leading the way in hundreds scored are Richard Shrimpton, Mike Wright and Mathew Hart, who scored four each, and Andy Roberts, Bruce McIntosh, Grant McKenzie, Dereck Beard, Grant Manners and Lorne Howell with three centuries to their name.

But above all these fine players is an unassuming 22-year-old in just his fourth season with Bay of Plenty, who on Sunday at the Bay Oval cracked his fifth ton to continue his remarkably consistent run of scores at this minor association level which is the breeding ground for tomorrow's first class players.

Bharat Popli stroked 19 effortless boundaries in his innings of 126 not out, as Bay of Plenty made 297-7 in their 50 overs against Waikato Valley in a Fergus Hickey 50-over game. Peter Drysdale (42), Scott Steward (25) and Tim Clarke (24) were the other run scorers.

Rain finished off the game after 45.5 overs of the Waikato Valley innings when the visitors had limped along to 152-7, with Dale Swan and Cameron Thomas nabbing two wickets each.

But the day belonged to Popli, who was unstoppable after he survived an early stumping chance.

He has been in outstanding form all season for new club Rotorua Indians, and he has played a handful of games for Northern Districts A this season, which means he is in the sights of the Northern Knights selectors.

Popli burst on to the scene when he was surprisingly selected in the Bay team in 2009 by coach James Pamment, while he was still making his way in the Tauranga Boys' College First XI.

But as debut innings go they do not get much better than what Popli produced against a good Hamilton attack.

Despite being apprehensive about his call up to play with so many experienced campaigners in a very good Bay side, Popli scored 113 and to prove it was no fluke, he repeated the dose a few weeks later when he made 122 not out against Poverty Bay.

In 2010 he hit 103 not out against Hamilton and last year 108 not out against Counties Manukau.

Popli is well aware of the significance of his fifth century in Bay colours and the players he has gone past.

"It feels great to be up there, and all those names are pretty big names in New Zealand cricket, so it is definitely good for me to get a few hundreds and contribute to the Bay team," Popli said.

This season is his best yet after a successful move to play club cricket in Rotorua after joining Mount Maunganui when he left Tauranga Boys'.

"I worked hard in the winter to just fix a couple of weaknesses that I had last season and I worked them out of the system. I used to struggle quite a bit off my pads, falling over while I was batting, so I have a preliminary movement going before the ball is delivered so I am much more balanced and that seems to be working quite a lot.

"Once you start getting runs then confidence grows and more runs come so it's been good that way."

Popli's move to play for the struggling Rotorua Indians team has been a triumph for himself and also in raising the standards in a once-strong club competition in Rotorua.

"It's been good. I wanted to help them out and do what I can for them, plus I knew there would be a lot of pressure on me to score week-in and week-out, and that is something I wanted to try and see if I could handle."

Every successful batsman is driven by individual goals and Popli is no different with first class and international aspirations.

"I set a goal to play a couple of four-day games for ND this summer and that is still a goal, and to keep getting runs you know. Selection will take care of itself if you go out there and perform in every game you can."

Next decision for Popli is whether to try and put his new engineering degree from the University of Auckland into use or to go overseas and play a season in England to give him the base for another run-scoring summer at home later this year.

"We have sorted out a club to play for over there but I am not too sure yet what will happen - but I will probably end up going to the UK to play."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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