Was turning down AB de Villiers’ comeback offer for the World Cup a mistake by South Africa?

Even as South Africa was reeling from three back-to-back losses in the ongoing ICC World Cup 2019 and licking their wounds, particular news has arrived like a bombshell that may further cause distress in the squad. It was learnt yesterday that AB De Villiers had made a stunning last-ditch effort to come out of his international retirement and be a part of the South African squad for the World Cup 2019 in England.

De Villiers, in a surprising and sudden move, had announced his retirement in May last year. The decision had stunned his fans all over the cricket world as all of them desperately wanted Superman from South Africa to play one final time in the World Cup. But that was not to be. What was more is that South Africa was struggling with its middle-order back then and De Villiers’ retirement put a hole in the batting unit; a void that has not been filled to date.

From South Africa’s performances in the World Cup, it is evident that De Villiers’ sudden retirement, just a year before the big tournament, upset the rhythm of their batting unit. There is no denying that AB De Villiers is one of the greatest batsmen the country has produced and his record in the ODI World Cup – 1207 runs in 22 innings at an average of 63.52 with four hundred and six fifties – is remarkable. It is thus evident that player of this caliber will be missed in such a consequential tournament.

So did the South African team management commit a mistake by turning down De Villiers’ offer to make a comeback during the World Cup?

In an official statement, Cricket South Africa (CSA) declared that De Villiers was urged by them not to retire in May 2018. He was also given the option to ‘plan and monitor his season’ so that he could be in the best of shapes for the World Cup 2019. However, De Villiers wasn’t keen on coming back to the team and take part in the home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan that would have allowed him to be considered for World Cup selection. Interestingly, though, he took part in various T20 domestic leagues in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.

CSA felt that it would have been unfair on the other players selected for the World Cup had De Villiers been suddenly drafted in out of the blue.

“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. 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 allowed 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,” Linda Zondi, the CSA National Selection Panel convener, was quoted as saying in a media release.

It is very apparent now that CSA’s decision to not allow De Villiers’ comeback was based on rational judgment and the principles with which they base their team culture. Yes, South Africa is in dire straits right now at the World Cup. But that doesn’t mean they should compromise with their integrity.

AB De Villiers took his decision to retire suddenly and put his team in a tight spot. And he must now live with that without reconsidering and placing the team management in an awkward situation. South Africa is still coping from that decision and is taking tiny steps towards rebuilding. It would be suitable for everyone concerned to allow them the time to do that.

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