De Villiers announced a shock retirement in May 2018, saying he was "running out of gas" after years on the international circuit. However, it has now emerged that he told the captain and coach that he was willing to make a comeback if they needed – something the selectors found out right before naming the squad.
While it came as a "shock", the selectors decided to "stay true to our morals and principles" and stick to their original selection, they said on Thursday, 6 June.
“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 18th was a shock to all of us," said Linda Zondi, selection panel convener.
"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.”
South Africa have struggled in the World Cup so far, losing all their three games, to England, Bangladesh and India. Apart from the injuries to their pace attack, their batsmen have failed to fire, leading to suggestions of what might have been if one of the best white-ball batsmen in the world were a part of this team.
De Villiers has enjoyed a particularly fruitful run at the World Cup; last edition, he smashed the fastest 150, off 66 balls, against West Indies in Sydney.
All that’s important is that we should all focus on supporting the team at the World Cup. There is a long way to go and I believe the boys can still go all the way #ProteaFire— AB de Villiers (@ABdeVilliers17) June 6, 2019
“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," revealed Zondi.
"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."
De Villiers has neither confirmed nor denied these reports. Posting on Twitter, he said, "All that’s important is that we should all focus on supporting the team at the World Cup. There is a long way to go and I believe the boys can still go all the way."