AB de Villiers regards the 2015 World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand as the “greatest disappointment” of his cricket career and believes there could have been “other considerations” in the selection of the XI that took the field for that match last March.
The revelation that racial dynamics played a role in Vernon Philander being selected ahead of Kyle Abbott came in the aftermath of the tournament and was confirmed by CSA, who said transformation targets were part of pre-match discussions, but this is the first time any of the players involved in the match has spoken out.
De Villers’ recollections of the events are published in his book, AB: The Autobiography, which launched in Johannesburg. The penultimate chapter, called “The Dream”, goes in-depth into the 2015 World Cup – revealing that South Africa kept a collective diary in which players made daily entries, and reiterating de Villiers’ conviction that South Africa could lift the trophy.
Despite two losses in the group stage, South Africa advanced to the semi-final after achieving their first-ever win in a World Cup knockout match when they beat Sri Lanka in the quarterfinal in Sydney. De Villiers wrote that it was “generally assumed” the same team would play against New Zealand.
That team included three players of colour in Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Imran Tahir. Throughout the tournament South Africa had played between three and five players of colour in their matches and had not received instruction on any specific number. At 5:30pm on the night before the semi-final, half an hour before South Africa’s team meeting, de Villiers got a call – he does not say from whom – to tell him that Philander had passed a fitness test earlier and would play instead of Abbott.
While considering the reasons for the change in selection, de Villiers explains how he knew that an incumbent player who is injured “will automatically go back into the team when he returned to fitness”. Philander had spent some of the tournament on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, so if he was fully fit, it would be the norm to recall him. De Villiers also “sensed the selectors thought Vernon would thrive in New Zealand conditions”, given his ability to move the ball off the seam on tacky surfaces. All the same, it seemed to de Villiers that “there could have been other considerations”.