South Africa's crushing T20 and One-Day International (ODI) series win has made a mockery out of the Indian cricket team in their own backyard. The Proteas notched up their maiden ODI series win in India with a sensational 214-run triumph in the final game at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.
Ever since putting the opposition on the backfoot with a 2-0 T20 series win, the visiting South Africans were always going to pose problems for the Indian brigade going into the five-match ODI series. But, MS Dhoni's men showed some fight after bouncing back from a 1-2 deficit to level the series 2-2 in the 4th ODI.
Going into the fifth ODI, the series was evenly placed and the stage was set for a gripping finale. But, what really unfolded at Wankhede was pure entertainment for the spectators across the globe, if not for the Indian fans. Riding on the heroics of Quinton de Kock (109), Faf du Plessis (133) and AB de Villiers (119), the visitors piled up 438 runs to cut a sorry figure for the beleaguered Indian bowling attack.
If the batsmen turned up the heat in the first innings, the South African bowlers ensured they didn't miss out on making a mark in the series decider. Rising star Kagiso Rabada (4/41) and Dale Steyn (3/38) decimated the Indian batting line-up to ensure the hosts were bowled out for a mere 224 runs in 36 overs.
The scenes were gruesome and a jam-packed Wankhede was shell-shocked as the Indian players were coming to terms with the fact that they were beaten in almost every facet of the game in their own backyard. And, even if the home team lost miserably, it was almost impossible for the Indian fans to overlook the team effort displayed by the visitors.
Here's why Team India fans love the South Africans despite a dismal show by the home team:
South Africa will always have a soft corner in the hearts of Indian fans. Following a 21-year-long ban by the ICC for its government's policy of apartheid, the Proteas have always been looked upon as a potent unit capable of clinching silverware. But, call it destiny or just bad luck, the South Africans have always missed out on major honours on the big stage.
The team, which is yet to win the coveted ICC World Cup trophy, suffered a heart-breaking loss in the 1999 final while, AB de Villiers' picture in tears sums up their 2015 campaign. The 'chokers' tag that has largely been associated with the South African team has garnered sympathy from the emotional Indian cricket enthusiasts.
AB de Villiers is a batsman of breathtaking chutzpah and enterprise, while possessing the skills and temperament required to back up his creative intent. Practically a 'superman' on the field and also a handy wicket-keeper, there's barely anything that De Villiers can't do in cricket. The right-handed batsman has been on a rampage ever since his debut in 2005.
Whether it's notching up hundreds or setting up unimaginable run-chases, AB has done it all. If his ever-growing records have attracted plaudits, De Villiers' unique stroke-playing ability has won hearts in every corner of the globe, including India. Watching him bat, or even field, is a joy no fan can afford to pass up and that's exactly why cricket should be pleased to have him.
The South African cricket has always been associated with an aggressive brand of cricket, something that every spectator enjoys thoroughly in the limited-overs format. But, despite being aggressive on the field, the attitude of the Saffers off the ground is just commendable.
The Proteas are very friendly and don't shy away from lauding the performance of their opposition on a bad day. It's the friendly nature and great sportsmanship of these cricketers that has earned them the loyalty of the Indian fans.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is an arena that has quickly become a strong platform for the cricketers to showcase their abilities and get noticed. The South Africans surely don't need recognition, but their participation in the T20 tournament has brought them closer to the Indian fans.
It's hard to imagine stars like AB de Villiers, Faf Du Plessis and Dale Steyn playing for India, but the fans in the cricket-frenzy nation take great pride when they see the Saffers in the jerseys of their IPL franchise. And for a change, they can actually praise their performances in a winning cause for their team.
South Africa boast two of the most influential players in AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn who have been impeccable in their respective roles in the batting and bowling department. And if that's not enough, the unmatched athleticism and dedication of their players in the field has only helped them establish a huge fan base in this part of the world.
Whether it's hitting the stumps from 30 yards or diving full length to convert half-chances into wickets, the Proteas have redefined the outlook of fielding in the world of cricket. From the days of the great Jonty Rhodes to the modern-day madness of De Villiers and Faf du Plessis, South Africa's agility on the field has enthralled Indian fans time and time again.