Kevin Pietersen enjoyed a timely return to his best form in Napier but England struggled to 240-7 at the close of play on day one of the third Test.
The right-hander scored his 11th Test ton to help rescue the tourists from 4-3 and then 36-4 after Michael Vaughan had won the toss and opted to bat first.
He eventually fell to the second new ball for 129 from 208 balls, his lone hand including 12 fours and a massive six off spinner Daniel Vettori that ended up getting stuck on a roof.
Stuart Broad, who shared a stand of 61 with Pietersen, closed the day unbeaten on 42. Ryan Sidebottom was alongside him on three not out.
However the rearguard action of the lower order will have to continue well into day two following a disappointing batting performance that once again saw the top-order fail to fire.
Debutant Tim Southee led the way for the new-look Kiwi attack with three wickets including the prized scalp of Pietersen just nine overs before the close.
The 19-year-old seamer, drafted in to replace the crocked Kyle Mills, had set the tone early when he trapped Vaughan lbw for two with just his 11th ball in Test cricket.
Andrew Strauss also fell to the new boy without managing to get off the mark, a loose drive outside off stump flying low to a diving Jamie How at gully.
When Alastair Cook was bowled off an inside edge by Chris Martin in the next over, England had lost all the momentum gained from their hard-fought victory in the second Test at Wellington.
Grant Elliott, another fresh face in the Black Caps' side, chipped in with the wicket of Ian Bell to push the visitors into further trouble.
The Warwickshire batsman could only punch back a short ball straight to the South African-born all-rounder who was playing due to an injury to Jacob Oram, arguably New Zealand's best bowler of the series so far.
To complete an excellent day for the home side's selectors, recalled spinner Jeetan Patel went on to pick up Paul Collingwood and Tim Ambrose in the afternoon.
Collingwood, who had to pass a fitness test on a bruised left calf to retain his place, battled for over an hour for 30 before giving his wicket away with a loose cut shot that sent the ball straight to point.
Ambrose, fresh from his man-of-the-match display at the Basin Reserve, was once again forced to try and perform a rescue act, although this time he couldn't be England's saviour.
A firm defensive prod at Patel offered a catch to Ross Taylor at second slip and left the visitors on147-6 just seven balls before the tea break.
Pietersen was forced to watch wickets tumble at the other end before finally finding a reliable ally in Broad, who contributed 18 in their seventh-wicket alliance that was eventually ended when Southee (3-46) struck again.
A loose drive offered How a simple chance at gully to end a brilliant, battling innings from the right-hander that may have kept his team alive in the series decider.