They were also the most successful tourists to India in terms of the quality of their performances in last two decades. But all that history was forgotten as Faf du Plessis' team proved highly incompetent in the ongoing contest.
So, with the second Test done and dusted in less than four days, let us identify the biggest factors that caused India to record such a crushing victory over the tourists.
It may sound pedantic and petty for the South African team to talk about the Toss as being a factor in their defeat. It is very unlikely also that they would have avoided defeat even if they had batted first. Still, batting second in India against India is always a much tougher proposition than batting first. The pressure of chasing a first-innings score against quality spinners has proved too much for most touring sides.
There is a possibility that if the Proteas had batted first, rather than chasing a 600+ first innings score, they may have had a better and less troubled mind-set. This may have allowed some of their batsmen to prosper rather than just fall apart. Toss remains crucial in these conditions.
Lack of experience in bowling attack
The value of experience in the art of pace bowling cannot be overstated. The fact that South Africa did not have a bowler like Dale Steyn who knows how to get wickets in these conditions proved very costly. Vernon Philander is now a veteran but he does not have the pace or the achievement of being very successful in these kind of pitches.
Kagiso Rabada will be a great bowler but he is not in the same league as Dale Steyn yet. Anrich Nortje is most certainly an unfinished product for Test cricket. The Proteas badly needed some experience in their attack to make a difference.
Inability to reverse
The biggest difference between pacers who have succeeded in India and those who have not is the ability to reverse-swing the ball. It was this quality that made Steyn master the Indian conditions and it is this quality that has led to Mohammad Shami's success also. Unfortunately for South Africa, they don't possess any seamers who are able to reverse swing the ball. Without this skill, it is almost impossible for seamers to succeed in the subcontinent.
The old reputation of India as master players of spin bowling has been belied several times in recent years. Good spinners, with some assistance, have proven to be very effective against Indian line-ups. Unfortunately, Keshav Maharaj has failed to live up to the expectations from him. To be fair, he hasn't got much support from the other end and has mainly bowled on pitches which are relatively flat.
With him unable to control the flow of runs, there is no accumulation of pressure and the team struggles to squeeze the Indian batsmen's scoring. Devoid of a capable spin attack, the Proteas seem out of sorts.
The big hole at no. 3
When it comes to South Africa's batting problems, the biggest issue facing them is the absence of a solid batter at the pivotal no. 3 position in the line-up. Hashim Amla was the occupier of that position and performed his role magnificently. With him gone, the Proteas don't know whom to put in his spot. Theunis de Bruyn seems completely out of place there.
With their being no wall at no. 3 to prevent early inroads into the middle order, the whole dynamic of the innings goes against the team. The Proteas need to quickly find someone with a good defence and run-scoring ability to replace Amla.