It is a shocking revelation that comes at a time when South Africa’s 2019 World Cup campaign is on the ropes following three straight losses in the first week of the competition.
Cricinfo broke the story on Thursday morning as South Africa were reeling from a six-wicket loss to India at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, and CSA then confirmed the news in the hours that followed.
The 35-year-old De Villiers, who captained South Africa at the 2015 World Cup, had retired from all forms of international cricket in May 2018.
Then, in November, he re-emphasised that he would not be making a u-turn on his decision and that he was very happily retired as it gave him the opportunity to spend more time with his family.
De Villiers’ recent stint in the IPL with the Royal Challengers, though, seems to have made him rethink his decision.
De Villiers, who was in India at the time, had approached national captain Faf du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson before the 15-man World Cup squad was announced stating his intentions to play in England.
The news was relayed to Zondi and the selection team on the day of the squad announcement, but the decision was taken to deny De Villiers’ request to be fair to other players.
At that stage, the likes of Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla and Reeza Hendricks were all battling it out for places in the squad, staking their claims in domestic cricket while De Villiers was not playing.
On Thursday, CSA convenor of selectors Linda Zondi released the following statement:
“I pleaded with AB de Villiers not to retire in 2018. Although there was a perception that he was picking and choosing when to play – which was not true – I did give him the option to plan and monitor his season to get him to the World Cup fresh and in a good space. We made it clear that he would have to play during the home tours against Sri Lanka and Pakistan to be considered for selection, instead he signed to play in the Pakistan and Bangladesh Premier Leagues respectively. He turned down the offer and said he was at peace with his decision to retire.
“For Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson to share AB’s desire to be included in the squad on the day we announced our World Cup squad on April 18 was a shock to all of us. AB left a big vacuum when he retired, we had a year to find players at franchise level to fill the gap. We had players who put in the hard work, who put up their hands and deserved to be given the opportunity to go to the World Cup. The decision was based on principle; we had to be fair to the team, the selection panel, our franchise system and players.
“At no point in the year that he had retired did he make himself available for selection. It was no option when I received the news on the day of the squad announcement, our squad was finalised and confirmed. AB is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world, but above all else, we have to stay true to our morals and principles, there is no regret in the decision.”
With South Africa’s top order having struggled in England so far, there is no doubt that they could have used De Villiers, who averages 53.50 from his 228 ODIs.