De Villers led South Africa during the 2015 Cricket World Cup, finishing as the third-highest run-getter in the tournament with 482 runs to his name. South Africa came into the competition as one of the favourites, and managed to achieve their first-ever win in the knockout stages of a World Cup against Sri Lanka in the quarter-final, but a nerve-wracking last-four encounter vs New Zealand at Eden Park saw them crash out in dramatic fashion.
Though with bat in hand he continued in similarly rich form even after the crushing defeat, de Villiers has now admitted that the next 12 months “were really tough” for him.
“I have a lot of respect for it (the semi-final defeat),” he said. “We got beaten by sport on the night and it was actually a beautiful thing but it was really difficult for me to get through that year and to specifically meet up with the team again a few months later, having to go again. Here we go again, we have to restart but I am like hold on, I am not over this World Cup. It hurt too much. So yes, I am sensitive and those kinds of things play a huge role in how I feel and my ambitions.
It was a rain-affected encounter, reduced to 43 overs per side.
Let’s relive the thriller 👀 pic.twitter.com/MnBzPRWpQZ
— ICC (@ICC) March 24, 2020
“The next 12 months were really tough for me. Maybe I should’ve been more honest about it if I look back and communicated about it. I felt like I was a little bit alone at the time but it’s silly to say that you’re alone if you don’t seek help and if you don’t talk about it. If I could have it over again, I probably would have opened up discussions with the coach, administrators and discuss my way forward. I should’ve shared my emotions with them and things that bothered me. I didn’t.
“That really wore me down a touch but I kept playing, I tried to bite the bullet, I tried to be there. I was batting really well. I still had incredible friendships and memories that were created in that next year. We went to India and we had a successful ODI series there. So there are still things to hold on and things we achieved after that but it was a difficult time.”
De Villiers took a break from Test cricket between the start of 2016 and the end of 2017, citing fatigue in an interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly around the time of his return. He then retired from all forms of international cricket in 2018, though it has been mooted since that a comeback could happen.