Jason Holder and Denesh Ramdin were at the centre of the last meaningful action West Indies engaged in in 2015. But their second-innings century partnership in Melbourne just postponed the inevitable heavy defeat, by 177 runs to Australia. Despite their defiance, current Test captain Holder and his immediate predecessor Ramdin found themselves unable to halt a result that had been on the cards after the very first day of the match at the MCG. That final game of 2015 was symptomatic of the year as a whole for West Indies cricket - one steady slide further downhill. And there is little sign that the slippage will cease soon.
The year began with the crisis caused by the abandoned 2014 tour of India still headline news. And over the next 12 months, the fallout continued to dominate events both on and off the field. Actual cricket became a sideshow.
Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, the sacked one-day captain and influential senior player were selected only for five T20 games all year. Ramdin, the Test captain for the abandoned India series, eventually lost his job to Holder following a 2-0 home series loss to Australia. In each case, cricketing reasons were cited by the chairman of selectors, Clive Lloyd.
However, the coach, Phil Simmons, opened Pandora's box when he claimed on the eve of the tour to Sri Lanka in November that the best team was not being picked for the one-day series; that Holder, Simmons himself and Lloyd had wanted Bravo and Pollard back in the side but had been outvoted 3-2; and that "outside influences" were at play.
Simmons subsequently found himself being suspended for that tour and had to attend a hearing to defend his claims. He kept his job but was forced to apologise to the West Indies Cricket Board and his fellow selectors for divulging the details of the selection meeting.
He did not pull back on his interference claims, however, and West Indies board CEO Michael Muirhead promised an "immediate investigation" into those claims. At year's end, no findings had been revealed.
The Caribbean prime-ministerial body CARICOM, through its cricket sub-committee, commissioned a report on the state of the game in conjunction with the West Indies board. The review panel, headed by University of the West Indies professor Dr Eudine Barriteau, which also included former West Indies wicketkeeper Deryck Murray, concluded that the board should be dissolved immediately.
Thereafter followed a public war of words between Grenada prime minister Keith Mitchell and WICB president Dave Cameron over the speed with which the board would meet with the region's leaders on the findings. By year's end, weeks after having met with CARICOM's leaders, the board seemed set to reject the idea of dissolution.
Disaffection with their players' association for its role in the contracts issue that prompted the rebellion in India also saw some leading players quit their bargaining unit. Further, Bravo, Dwayne Smith and Lendl Simmons announced their retirements from first-class cricket, and Pollard took an indefinite break from the format.
Despite his efforts, Simmons was unable to effect a change of heart on the issue of Pollard, Simmons and Bravo, and with ongoing back issues keeping Chris Gayle out of Test cricket all year, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul's illustrious Test career being controversially halted at the end of the England home series, a struggling team became even poorer. The results proved it.
Of the 10 Tests they played in 2015, West Indies won just one, against England, and lost eight, with a solitary draw. Without Bravo and Pollard, they lost series 2-0 in South Africa, 2-0 in Sri Lanka, and are on course to be whitewashed down under after losing the first two Tests. At the World Cup, West Indies were beaten in their opening match by Associate top-rankers Ireland (then coached by Simmons) and just barely made it to the knockout stage, where they made their expected exit, against New Zealand.
Only in T20s did the side maintain their competitiveness. Still captained by Darren Sammy, they won a three-match series with South Africa and shared another with Sri Lanka. But the lack of a solid spine of senior players in Tests and ODIs had a detrimental effect on any hopes of progress overall.
The seniors who did play were largely disappointing. The indifferent form of the team's most accomplished batsman, Marlon Samuels, affected the batting effort significantly. And opener Kraigg Brathwaite struggled under the weight of being the senior Test opener, with no steady partner and without Gayle's presence and heavy bat to take the pressure off. The lack of suitable, ready-made replacements once again showed up the current weakness of the domestic first-class competition.
To add to a difficult period of adjustment for new Test and ODI captain Holder, mystery spinner Sunil Narine was banned from bowling in international cricket for an illegal action. Narine is the only West Indian bowler with legitimate claims to world-class status at the moment, and his suspension was a blow to the body that Holder could have done without. Praised despite heavy losses for his strong character, Holder will need an even stronger constitution in 2016 if he, like Ramdin, is not to be laid low by an increasingly hopeless cause.
Against all expectations, except perhaps their own, West Indies saved their three-Test series against England by beating the tourists by five wickets at their old fortress, Kensington Oval. In the end, it proved to be the final match for the team's long-time lynchpin Chanderpaul. Father Time finally caught up with the then 40-year-old, so
imperturbable, highly skilled and reliable at the crease, after 164 matches and 11,867 runs.
In this game, though, West Indies were delivered by Darren Bravo, the likeliest candidate to succeed Chanderpaul as batting hero. His 82 and Jermaine Blackwood's unbeaten 47 (following his first-innings 85) ensured that they chased 192. In that match at least, West Indians saw reason to hope in the young brigade. And there will be an expectation, a demand even, on Bravo and Blackwood for greater delivery on their promise.
In a year of lows, the candidates were many, but Narine's suspension from the game for an illegal bowling action put an exclamation point on a bad year for West Indies cricket. Called twice during last year's Champions League playing for Kolkata Knight Riders, he underwent remedial work on an action that had been a problem even before his international debut.
Narine gave up a place in the World Cup squad to work on it, but still, that did not prevent him being reported again, after the third ODI against Sri Lanka in November. The history of players recovering from such setbacks is not encouraging, and with Jerome Taylor - West Indies' leading bowler in Tests and ODIs currently on the wrong side of 30 - and his strike partner Kemar Roach struggling to regain pace and form after a lengthy injury layoff, Narine's exile will be telling, especially at the World T20.
New kid on the block
At 24, Holder is still new to many things in life, but especially to the captaincy. In 2015, enormous pressure and responsibility were heaped upon his broad shoulders after he was asked to lead a lowly team in both the five-day and one-day arenas. It is not a position for which he was groomed. Worse, he entered at a time of high controversy and on the eve of a major tournament, with team talisman Gayle openly questioning the absence of Bravo and Pollard.
While Holder struggled on the field at times to command situations, in his batting and bowling there were indications that West Indies had found a fighter and a solid all-round talent.
Lacking the pace his towering frame promises at first glance, Holder bowled with intelligence to get his 18 Test and 19 ODI wickets. Only Jerome Taylor (28 and 21) got more for West Indies. And even when things were going horribly wrong, like when AB de Villiers plundered 45 runs off a mere nine balls from the West Indies captain in racing to 149
off 44 in the ODI at the Wanderers in January, Holder did not shrink. That spunk could be his biggest asset going forward.
Turning around a side in the middle of a long-standing losing run was always likely to be mission impossible for Ramdin. It was unlikely he would be able to effect positive change in the middle of the negativity still affecting the team after the players' walkout of 2014, especially since as the team leader at the centre of that impasse, questions had persisted over his future. Sharing the home series with England did not buy him the kind of time he might have expected. He did not survive the comprehensive loss to Australia that followed, in June.
Captaincy seemed a hindrance to Ramdin's batting. It was the reason chief
selector Lloyd gave for his removal. But the lightening of his load did not spark a return to form. Ramdin's half-century in Melbourne at year's end was only his second in 19 innings. In Tests he averaged 19.94, in ODIs, 23.00.
With Shane Dowrich being around the squad since the Australia home series, time may be running out for the ex-captain.
What 2016 holds
News that the BCCI has agreed in principle to have its team tour the Caribbean next year was needed respite in a year of steady blows for the West Indies Cricket Board. But the broken relationship between the board and many of its leading players; the rift that currently exists between the WICB and the region's politicians, whose governments control most of the venues at which the WICB stages its matches; coach Simmons' discomfort with his inability to get the teams he wants; and the inexperience of both Holder and the squads he has been given do not a happy mix make.
In 2016, West Indies will suffer the embarrassment of having to watch the Champions Trophy on television after not being able to finish higher than Bangladesh or Pakistan in the ODI rankings. That is about as low as a team with Full Member status can get. But without a drastic change in approach at several levels, West Indies cricket faces the prospect of redefining the meaning of rock bottom.