Great news for the ‘original’ cricket fans! The longer version of the game and Indian Domestic Cricket are both alive and well! We had one of the most spectacular matches in recent memory, over the past 4 days – the Ranji Trophy Final. Fortunes changed every hour and Mumbai barely scrapped through, winning by just 6 runs against Karnataka on Day 4 of this 5 day Match, which was played at Mysore.
This match had everything – great bowling, tenacious batting, terrific catching and excellent crowd support. The Mysore Pitch curators did a splendid job by providing a greenish bowler friendly wicket. For too long, domestic cricket has become a bowler’s graveyard, resulting in very high scoring games that get decided based on first innings lead. This game was a clear exception…in fact at times it felt like the match might get over in just 3 days!
Mumbai won the toss and elected to bat first. Some were skeptical of this decision looking at the fresh green wicket, but Mumbai’s strategy was to bat first and put the pressure on the opposition, especially in such a big game. Karnataka bowlers struck immediately and reduced Mumbai to 20/3. The ball was swinging and doing crazy things – definitely not something you are used to seeing in Indian conditions. Like many times before this season the middle and lower-middle order bailed out Mumbai and got them to a fighting first innings total of 233. Vinay Kumar was quite impressive with 4 wickets. Karnataka fared much worse while batting. From 53/3, they literally collapsed like a deck of cards to 130 all-out, giving Mumbai a very important 103 run first innings lead. For Mumbai, Salvi chipped-in with 5 wickets.
Mumbai’s 2nd innings started with a lot of expectations from their batsmen – they were in a strong position in the match and were expected to consolidate their position further. For a few minutes, it did feel that way, when the normally sedate Wasim Jaffer (Mumbai Captain) struck a couple of quick boundaries. But the Karnataka pace attack was also all charged up and reduced Mumbai to 18/3. Mithun who bowled beautifully throughout, was on a hat-trick. 2 more wickets fell later that session, and at 51/5, Karnataka was back in the match. Again Mumbai’s middle order – Nayar and Dhaval Kulkarni (who was a surprise promotion in the batting line-up), did the rescue act. Nayar fell to what can be described as one of the most spectacular all-time catches, by Manish Pandey! (See attached YouTube clip). Kulkarni carried on and by the time Mumbai innings folded at 234, they had an impressive 337 run lead.
Chasing 337 in the last innings is tough under any conditions, and on this bowling paradise, it seemed like Mumbai had pretty much won the trophy! But the swings in fortune were to continue. There were a few more twists in the tale, yet to come. Karnataka again lost Robin Utthapa (their Captain) and the top two cheaply and at 46/3, it felt like the game could be wrapped up soon. But Pandey and Satish had other ideas. They defended solidly and as the partnership progressed, turned aggressive (especially Pandey). A mammoth 200 run partnership evolved and from a losing position – they were well insight of a comfortable win! This change happened in just 3 hours! Pandey scored an attacking run-a-ball 140. He is clearly an exciting prospect for Team India (for many, the memory of his spectacular century he scored for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL is still fresh…).
But Pandey’s wicket again turned the tide and the big game pressure got to Karnataka. The senior, talented (but often unreliable!) Mumbai pacer Ajit Agarkar took charge, with good support from Kulkarni at the other end. In just over an hour after lunch, Karnataka were down to 322/9 with 15 runs still remaining. The last pair was batting reasonably comfortably until Agarkar got Aravind Caught & Bowled…with just 6 runs remaining!
The scenes of jubilation in the Mumbai camp were amazing. Karnataka players were utterly disappointed – especially Manish Pandey, whose heroic 140 still fell short. The passion and intensity of the game were visible on the faces of both teams.
As Wasim Jaffer lifted the Ranji Trophy for the 39th time, it was not Mumbai alone who was celebrating. It was a terrific victory for Domestic Cricket! I cannot remember anytime before when there was so much excitement for a domestic game – and this when an international India-Sri Lanka-Bangladesh ODI series was in progress!
This morning, I was at the Toyota Dealership for my car servicing. The prospect of a boring wait lay ahead. I picked up a brochure of the new Fortuner and casually enquired about the possibility of a Test-Drive, fully knowing that the SUV may not even be available at this location. Ever since the much anticipated launch in 2009, the Fortuner is in great demand and even the waiting lists have been closed down. Toyota is sitting pretty on a big backlog.
To my surprise, the SUV was available and the dealer representative promptly arranged for a Test Drive. Note that Pune City Traffic is pretty bad for any Test Drive! Nevertheless, I was able to drive the SUV around for 20 min, and did manage to find a brief stretch of open road. Note, in a strict sense I won’t call this blog a true Test Drive Report. As the title suggests, these are first impressions.
The first thing that strikes you about the Fortuner is the huge ground clearance. The Toyota representative quickly highlighted that it was 220 mm. This is ideal for rough off-road/rural road driving conditions. The 17 inch wheels are also a welcome feature. The exterior shape looks a little bit like the Lexus RX 300 SUV (though the Fortuner is smaller), and is pretty nice. Unfortunately, the similarities between the Lexus SUV end quickly! From the inside, the Fortuner looks quite simple, with little hint of any luxury. In fact, the interiors are very close to that of the top-end Innova (that costs almost half…). The cabin space, consisting of 3 rows of seats, is at best comparable with that of the Innova. The features list of the Fortuner also runs very close: 2 Airbags, Climate Control being the primary highlights.
However, the similarities between the Innova start fading away as you start the Fortuner. The 3.0L Turbocharged Diesel Engine is bigger and significantly more powerful. It delivers 126 KW (171 PS) of Power @ 3600 RPM, with a Max Torque of 343 Nm (1400 – 3400 rpm). The 5-Speed Manual Transmission drives the full-time 4WD system. It also has special gear for driving in extreme high gradients (often referred to as the ‘Jump’ gear in the old Land Rovers and Jongas…).
The Fortuner definitely has enough power at hand – However, a noticeable turbo-charger delay is felt when accelerating. Having recently test driven the 2.0 Liter Diesel Skoda Laura, I felt that the Fortuner delay was longer and more pronounced.
One area where Toyota excels the most in my opinion is the suspension and the comfort of the ride. The Fortuner doesn’t disappoint here at all. The comfort for the driver and passenger is great, and will be a big plus on the rough roads in India.
On the downside, I still think that Toyota Diesel Engines are not as smooth and refined as that of their German Counterparts. Agreed, fuel economy is a big factor, but a Petrol Fortuner would not be a bad idea at some point in the future. The Toyota Petrol Engines are truly great.
Maybe it was the specific SUV that I was driving (The representative mentioned that this one had been out on long Test Drives for a few weeks…), but I felt that the braking could have been a bit better. Note, the Fortuner has front disc and rear drum brakes.
Overall I thought that Fortuner is a good vehicle; simply not a great one. At the price point of Rs 20 – 22 Lakhs, I would have expected a bit more refinements and features on the interiors. Hope Toyota considers a Petrol Engine variant (or does some serious improvements to the Diesel Engine). Also at the +20 Lakhs price range, an Automatic Transmission Option should be made available.