Ottis Gibson, the Proteas’ coach, has been speaking about how this came about. Gibson was asked when he first heard that De Villiers was interested in coming into the World Cup squad.
“Good question. When did I first learn? AB called me. I think it was the morning that the squad was going to be announced. A lot of other things had gone on before that, of course. The statement that was put out said that he was told if he wanted to be available [for the World Cup] that Pakistan and Sri Lanka were tours that he had to make himself available for, and obviously he didn't. But I think it was the morning of when the squad was going to be announced that I got told, either the night before or the morning of. I can't remember.”
"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."https://t.co/pvkpQPpMXE— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 6, 2019
When asked if de Villiers' retirement from international cricket was a concrete decision or if there was some flexibility, Gibson said he couldn’t say for sure, but that he had discussed the situation with the batsman.
“I actually saw him in December. When I came back on 12 December, there was a Mzansi League game at SuperSport Park when I saw him briefly on the field, he was spinning a toss, I was doing an interview on the ground, and I said, ‘Are you finished with this retirement nonsense yet’, and he said, ‘Look, I'm happy with my retirement. I'm happy with the decision I've made’ and so on, and that was the end of that.
"He also called me the day that he did retire in May. I don't think you should have to beg a guy to play for his country, but I did make it clear that I thought he was making a bad decision, that he could help us win the World Cup, and he said he had made his decision and it was time to spend time with his family, and that was the end of that really.”
Gibson admitted that the news that de Villiers was interested in an international return came as a surprise. “Yeah, of course. Because we had moved on.
"The interesting thing ... since he's retired, we've won every series that we've played, and I haven't had many AB questions. I sat with some [media] in Cape Town during the camp, and we sat for 20 minutes or half an hour, and there wasn't one AB question like that.
“Suddenly we've come to the World Cup and we've had one bad week, and AB is the saviour. But the guy is retired, he's made his decision, and we as a team, and I guess you guys, as well, we have to live with the decision that he's made, and he has to live with the decision that he's made. To come the day before and say that he'd like to come back would seem a little bit strange to say the least.”
The timing of this news could be seen as a distraction, but Gibson insisted it doesn’t really matter. “Whenever it happened doesn't matter. The fact is he made his decision, and he's said continuously since then that he's happy with the decision that he's made. So then to come the day before the squad is being announced ...
"Personally I suspect that there are a lot more people wanting AB to be here than AB himself because I believe that if AB wanted to be here, he would be here. But he is wherever he is in the world right now and doing exactly what he wants to be doing. If he wanted to be here, he would be here. That's how I see it.”
South Africa’s next game will be against the West Indies on Monday 10 June at the Hampshire Bowl, Southampton.