Nortje and Pretorius, menacing, miserly and just what South Africa needed

Forget buffaloes, England had a different animal to consider at Newlands: the hadeda.

While their batsmen came and went, one Southern African ibis stayed on the field all day and he (we'll use the masculine, although we can't be sure) had good reason to. The lush outfield is a perfect pecking ground and he could gorge himself on any insect he could find.

England could have had a similar experience. There are runs to be scored on this pitch, which has decent bounce and carry but nothing spiteful in it, and someone in England's line-up could have feasted. They all seemed to have the appetite, with six of the top seven getting starts but no-one hungry enough to finish the job.

Instead, it was the South African attack who took their cue from the big bird and stuck to their task with discipline and determination. Their reward was nine wickets, with four claimed by the change bowlers, Anrich Nortje and Dwaine Pretorius. Between them, they have played just five Tests but they operate like men who have been around.

While Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada are expected to apply pressure and take wickets, and Keshav Maharaj is expected to hold an end, Nortje and Pretorius came into this series with very little expectation on them. In fact, Nortje may not even have played if Lungi Ngidi had been fit and Pretorius may not have played if South Africa went with their old combination of seven specialist batsmen and four bowlers (read: if Temba Bavuma had been fit).

There are other discussions to be had about those selection decisions and South Africa's complex social history but for today, we'll stick to the cricketing rationale and in doing that, we have to conclude that the right choice was made. Nortje and Pretorius have changed the dynamic of the attack and that was most evident here at Newlands.

South Africa showed their hand early when Philander and Rabada opened with spells of six overs each, gave away 33 runs combined and broke the opening stand. Then, Nortje and Pretorius tightened the grip with strangling spells of their own.

Nortje's first five overs cost nine runs, Pretorius' only five runs, with four maiden overs and two scoring shots. Pretorius' approach was to bowl on a fairly full length and tight line, making the batsmen play but not giving them the room to score. He delivered a maiden over to Dom Sibley and two to Joe Denly with all but one ball just outside off stump, inching closer to the edge. He tightened the noose enough so that when Rabada came back on, he only had to finish the job. Rabada held his length back and cramped Sibley for room to nick him off and secure a second wicket in the morning session.

By then, Maharaj had already bowled three overs - unusually for a South African spinner who has traditionally only made an appearance later on the first day - and he continued after the break. That tactic "took the heat," off the quicks, Pretorius explained and allowed them to rotate from the Wynberg End, from where there was more nibble to exploit and Nortje took the biggest bites.

His pace was consistently around the 145 kph mark and he aimed at the body. He hit Denly on the helmet and found a defensive Joe Root's outside edge but Rassie van der Dussen, at slip, spilled his third chance of the series. Two balls later, Nortje banged it again, Root took evasive action and gloved it to Quinton de Kock. Job done.

For the rest of the afternoon session, South Africa kept the lid on. England were not allowed to score at more than three runs to the over and the frustration bubbled under. Ollie Pope and Ben Stokes found some release after tea but when Stokes gifted Nortje his second wicket of the day, South Africa sensed an opportunity to burst through.

Pretorius was brought back for a third spell with the new ball eight overs away, having given away six runs in seven overs. His figures more than doubled when Pope edged him through gully and Jos Buttler drove him through the covers for four. He was irritated. "I'd been going at less than one run an over the whole innings and suddenly he hit me for a boundary and I don't like getting hit for boundaries," Pretorius said.

Then, he produced a gorgeous length ball that just angled away from Buttler and kissed the edge. He celebrated by getting close to Buttler and screaming and may earn himself some demerit points but perhaps he won't mind. "That was a big wicket. Jos can take the game away from you. He was looking quite positive."

A smaller wicket came when Sam Curran comically left a ball that pegged back off stump. "Any wickets before the new ball are important wickets because it makes the tail shorter," Pretorius said.

It also confirmed that he is doing exactly what his captain and coach want him to do. "Faf [du Plessis] and [Mark] Boucher have been very specific with my role and I think I am understanding it quite well," Pretorius said. "It's to make sure I got for as little runs as possible, make sure I dry up an end completely and hopefully strike that way and build some pressure for our strike bowlers - the guys that bowl 150 kph, to make sure they've for some freedom to explore."

That Pretorius does not consider himself a strike bowler is telling. He sees himself as part of a unit that complements each other and called it a "privilege," to be bowling in tandem with someone of the pace of Nortje. That South Africa have five frontline bowlers is also telling. In most sides, it is a luxury - Australia are currently beating New Zealand with four - and South Africa have not been able to fit that many in without sacrificing a batsman. But this summer, they have found a way to keep the line-up long and the attack well-stocked and it's becoming clear how much better balanced that makes the XI.

Nortje, much like Duanne Olivier, is already a candidate for find of the summer. South Africa will hope that's all he has in common with Olivier, whose Kolpak deal was made public immediately after he was named man of the series against Pakistan last January. The administration will be especially wary because they have already had to talk one player down from the cliff edge in recent weeks. Pretorius signed with Nottinghamshire but will not be joining the county after committing his future to South Africa. "I'm glad to be playing Test cricket. It's a dream come true for a kid from Rustenberg to be playing a New Year's Test at Newlands. That's why I didn't pursue the other opportunity," he said.

And he won't need to anytime soon. When Philander retires at the end of the series, Pretorius will be the first-choice allrounder in the XI. South Africa's challenge will be to find the second. Andile Phehlulwayo is in the squad and is the likeliest while Wiaan Mulder is also on the radar. Neither of them has Philander's skills, and South Africa will miss having someone with the ability to move the ball off the seam, but that is a discussion for another day.

Unlike the hadeda, Philander has decided not to hang around longer, much as South Africa would want him to. Rather, their attention will shift to the players with years ahead of them, like Nortje and Pretorius, who also had a close look at the bird through the day.

"I'm just glad it didn't get hit," Pretorius said. South Africa are glad Pretorius didn't.