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Dissecting the drama: the complete timeline of the ‘de Villiers comeback’ fiasco that lasted 3 years

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The complete timeline of the ‘de Villiers comeback’ fiasco

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Dissecting the drama: the complete timeline of the ‘de Villiers comeback’ fiasco that lasted 3 years

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Anirudh Suresh

05/19/2021

A three-year-long chapter came to its conclusion on Monday as CSA, after years of leaving fans hanging, confirmed that AB de Villiers will not be coming out of retirement to play for South Africa. The chapter endured a rather disappointing end, but the three-year-long soap opera was far from boring.

May 23, 2018:AB de Villiers, four days after completing RCB’s IPL 2018 campaign, announces his retirement from international cricket.  De Villiers’ announcement leaves the cricketing fraternity shocked and sends social media into meltdown.

"After 114 Test matches, 228 ODIs and 78 T20 Internationals, it is time for others to take over. I have had my turn, and to be honest, I am tired,” AB says in his statement. 

"This is a tough decision, I have thought long and hard about it and I'd like to retire while still playing decent cricket. After the fantastic series wins against India and Australia, now feels like the right time to step aside.

"It would not be right for me to pick and choose where, when and in what format I play for the Proteas. For me, in the green and gold, it must be everything or nothing.”

July 10, 2018: Despite retiring from international cricket, de Villiers, 34, vows that he’ll play the IPL for a few years. De Villiers also hints that he ‘might’ potentially ponder playing in T20 leagues across the world.

"I will keep on playing IPL for a few years, and I would like to play for the Titans, and help some of the youngsters. But there are no set plans. I haven't been able to say that for a long time.

"There are some offers on the table from around the world, but it will be nice to wake up and wonder what to do; to be normal,” he says.

July 17, 2018:  Thabang Moroe, CSA's new permanent CEO, says that he is keen to involve AB in a coaching role for South Africa.

"He has indicated it would be something he is keen on. But we need to talk about the scale. AB has just retired with the notion of him wanting to spend more time with family. If I am going to put him in the development or pipeline structures and he ends up spending more time away than when he was in the national team, it is obviously not going to work for him."

August 16, 2018: Three months after retirement, de Villiers breaks his silence and reveals that the pressure of playing international cricket was ‘unbearable.’  He says that he is delighted to have stepped away from that environment.

"It's been unbearable at times: the pressure you have to face, performing day in and day out. The expectations you put on yourself, from fans, from the country, from coaches. It is huge and it's something that's on your mind all the time as a cricketer. And it is definitely something that I'm not going to miss. I am very happy to have stepped away. Absolutely no regrets."

September 7, 2018: De Villiers lands a gig in an overseas T20 league; signs up with Lahore Qalandars for PSL 2019. 

October 26, 2018:  De Villiers also signs up to play in the inaugural Mzansi Super League (MSL) edition, and says that it will be ‘arrogant’ and ‘selfish’ on his part to throw statements claiming that he’d love to play in the 2019 World Cup.

"No, there is no comeback. I made the mistake of saying 'never say never', which is a philosophy that I have always followed in my life. I was actually trying to say that I am focusing on the now, but it came out horribly wrong and the next minute there were headlines around the world.

"I certainly do not want to confuse anyone around the world, especially the Proteas team. It will be very selfish and arrogant of me to throw statements around that I want to play at the World Cup. I am happy where I am and focusing on the now and I will never say 'never say never' again. My focus at the moment is to play good cricket in the Mzansi Super League for the Tshwane Spartans. I have been working hard to be fit."

October 27, 2018:  More franchise cricket - De Villiers signs up to represent Rangpur Riders in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).

November 2018 to April 2019:  De Villiers plays in the MSL, BPL and PSL and continues being a T20 mercenary.  By now, he is completely dissociated from international cricket and talks of him making an international comeback have died. 

18 April, 2019:  South Africa name 15-man squad for the 2019 World Cup. There is no place for AB de Villiers, who is representing Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2019 edition of the IPL.  

June 6, 2019: A day after South Africa’s loss to India, their third consecutive defeat in the 2019 World Cup, leaks emerge revealing that the South African management had turned down de Villiers’ offer to play in the 2019 World Cup. The report reveals that de Villiers had reached out to the management one day before the announcement of the 15-man squad, and adds that the management rejected the veteran’s offer as it would be “unfair to the squad that had been together for the past year since de Villiers announced his retirement.”

June 6, 2019:  The report sends social media into meltdown, and later the same day, de Villiers posts a cryptic tweet. 

“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,” his Tweet reads.

June 6, 2019:  Following the revelations, Cricket South Africa's selection panel convener, Linda Zondi, issues 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 [for South Africa] - 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 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 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."

June 11, 2019: South Africa skipper and AB’s long-time friend Faf du Plessis reveals that, one day before the squad announcement, AB had reached out to him asking if there was an opportunity for him to play the World Cup.

"It was just a conversation. a phone call the night before the team got announced. It was just a 'This is what I'm feeling'.

"I said to him, 'I think it is too late but I will check in with the coach and the selectors the next morning to get their opinion on it, as the squad was already announced or picked'.

"But that day there was the announcement. When I spoke to the coach and the selectors the next day, they all agreed that it was way, way too late to change the team, or 99.99 percent [too late],” du Plessis reveals.

June 14, 2019: One day before South Africa’s clash against Afghanistan, with the Proteas still winless in the competition, Rassie van der Dussen implies that de Vlliers handled the situation poorly.

"But you can't, on the day before the announcement and a team that's been working for something for year and even longer than a year, come and say, 'I want to make a comeback now'. I am not saying he was wrong or he was right; so don't misquote me. But it would have set a difficult precedent - not necessarily a wrong one, because it's still AB, he is still one of the best players in the world - I just think it was handled maybe not in the correct way from his side,” van der Dussen says. 

July 12, 2019: Following South Africa’s ignominious exit, de Villiers finally breaks his silence on the controversy.  De Villiers reveals that, on the day of his retirement, the selectors told him that the ‘door will always be open’ and hence he made a casual inquiry to Faf. He further says that he communicated with Faf privately, and implies that their private convo was leaked to show him in bad light.

"Faf and I have been friends since we were at school together and, two days before the World Cup squad was announced, I contacted him for a chat. I had been in decent form during the Indian Premier League and casually repeated what I had said when asked a year earlier, that I was available if required... but only if required.

"I made absolutely no demands at all. I certainly did not try to force my way into the World Cup squad on the eve of the tournament, and did not expect to be included. There was no burning issue from my side, and no sense of injustice."

 "Then, out of the blue, on the evening after the Proteas lost to India, suffering a third successive World Cup defeat, elements of our private conversation were disclosed to the media, and distorted to cast me in the worst possible light.

"The story was not leaked by me, or anybody associated with me, or by Faf. Maybe someone wanted to deflect criticism. I don't know,” de Villiers says.

December 14, 2019: Following the World Cup debacle, South Africa sack Otis Gibson and appoint legendary wicket-keeper and AB’s former teammate Mark Boucher as the men’s national side’s head coach.

December 14, 2019: Boucher makes his intentions clear in his first interview and says that he would love to see de Villiers come out of retirement and play for South Africa.

"If I feel he is one of your best players, why wouldn't I want to have a conversation with him? I've only just got into the job, I might have conversations with quite a few players and see where they are,” Boucher says.

December 17, 2019:  Du Plessis confirms that de Villiers in in talks to feature in the T20 WC in 2020.

"People want AB to play and I am no different. Those conversations have been happening for two or three months already: what does it look like, how does it look over the next year, and that's where it starts.”

January 14, 2020:  Representing Brisbane Heat in the BBL, de Villiers says he would “love to'' play in the WT20 scheduled to take place in Australia later in the year. He says that all parties - himself, Boucher and Graeme Smith - are keen to ‘make it happen’.

"There's a lot that needs to happen before that becomes reality, I would love to. I've been talking to Bouch, Graeme Smith and Faf back home. We are all keen to make it happen, it's a long way away still and plenty can happen - there's the IPL coming, I've still got to be in form at that time. I'm thinking of throwing my name in the hat and hoping everything will work out.

"It's not a guarantee, I don't want to disappoint myself or other people, so for now I'm just going to try and keep a low profile, play the best possible cricket I can and we'll see what happens towards the end of the year."

February 16, 2020: Boucher says that De villiers will play in the World Cup if he makes himself available for the requested duration.

"If AB is in good form and he is raring to go and he makes himself available for the time we have asked him to be available; if he is the best man for the job, then he must go. It's not about egos or anything like that, it's about sending your best team to the World Cup to try and win that competition."

The head coach further claims that AB is yet to make up his mind.

February 17, 2020: South Africa name squad for three-match T20I series versus Australia at home, but there is no place for AB de Villiers.

March 2020:  A global coronavirus outbreak halts all cricket across the world. The 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League is indefinitely postponed and reports start emerging that there is a high chance that even the World T20 in October could get postponed. 

April 13, 2020:  De Villiers says that he could reconsider his decision to ‘return’ if the WT20 is postponed. 

"If the tournament is postponed to next year, a whole lot of things will change. At the moment I feel available but at the same time, I don't know how my body will feel then and if I will be fit.”

July 20, 2020:ICC confirm that WT20 2020 has been postponed to 2021. They also confirm that the 2021 edition will be hosted by India, with Australia taking up the 2022 edition.

July 22, 2020: South Africa’s T20 skipper Quinton de Kock confirms that de Villiers was in line for an international comeback before the pandemic disrupted things.

"He was definitely in line. If fit, I would have loved to have AB de Villiers. I think any team would have loved to have AB de Villiers in their team. While we were pushing for him, now we will have to see when the T20 World Cup is going to happen now."

September and October 2020: De Villiers features in the rescheduled 2020 edition of the IPL and showcases the world his quality by turning out to be one of the best performers in the competition. He has, however, still made no public statements about making a potential international comeback. 

November - March 2021:  South Africa play a total of 9 T20Is against Pakistan and England, yet de Villiers features in none of the matches. Despite the 2021 World T20 edging closer, there are no signs of de Villiers making an international comeback. 

April 18, 2021: De Villiers, playing in the 2021 edition of the IPL, confirms that he will have a chat with Boucher ‘very soon’ regarding his international comeback. 

"We are lined up to have a chat sometime during the IPL. But yes, we've been talking about it already. Last year, he asked me if I would be interested. And I said, 'absolutely'. And come the end of the IPL, we will have a look at where we are at with regards to my form and my fitness.

"Also, the situation with his team - he's got to look at his guys who have been performing well over the last while. If there's no space for me, so be it. If I can slot in there, it will be fantastic if all those things fall in place. Waiting for [the chat with] Bouchy towards the end of the IPL, and we will then plan accordingly."

May 18, 2021: Cricket South Africa (CSA) confirm that AB de Villiers will NOT be making an international comeback, and make it clear that he has ‘retired permanently’. 

“AB de Villiers finalises international retirement. Discussions with AB de Villiers have concluded with the batsman deciding once and for all, that his retirement will remain final.”

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