Kevin Pietersen's 12th Test hundred led England to 273-7 after New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori asked them to bat in the third Test at Trent Bridge.
Pietersen shared a 161-run, sixth-wicket partnership with Tim Ambrose to rescue the hosts from the perilous position of 86-5 shortly after lunch.
The South African-born all-rounder, who spent four years at Nottinghamshire while qualifying to represent England, made 115 from 223 balls on his former home ground before falling to Iain O'Brien shortly after the second new ball had been taken.
Ambrose supported Pietersen admirably to reach 67, a third half-century in six Tests, although he also fell to the impressive O'Brien (4-61) late in the day.
Vettori's choice to bowl first on a juicy looking surface raised some eyebrows and perhaps gave an indication the Black Caps skipper had less-than-total faith in his top-order batsmen's ability to counter the expected early movement.
The tourists had been forced into a late change of plan after Brendon McCullum's back injury worsened overnight.
The vice-captain was fit enough to play as a batsman only with Gareth Hopkins brought in for a Test debut behind the stumps. That meant no place for Peter Fulton who it was originally planned would bat at number three, a role that will now be fulfilled by McCullum.
Vettori's decision initially looked shrewd - Alastair Cook poked around to reach six before Kyle Mills swung the ball into him and took out his leg stump via an inside edge in the sixth over.
Michael Vaughan endured a shaky start, failing to lay a bat on his first four deliveries from Mills, before he settled down by getting off the mark with a superbly-timed cover drive off Chris Martin (0-61), soon followed by three more sweetly struck boundaries.
The England captain had raced to 16 off 22 balls when O'Brien nipped the ball back through a hopeful drive to uproot the off-stump.
That left England at 44-2 and facing yet another substandard first-innings batting display having gone 11 successive Tests without reaching 400.
Andrew Strauss (37) teamed up successfully with Pietersen to forge a 40-run stand but was undone only six balls after lunch chasing a wide delivery from Mills which he edged to Ross Taylor at slip.
And out-of-form pair Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood did not hang around for long.
Bell shuffled across his stumps to be trapped lbw by O'Brien for a duck, while Collingwood also failed to trouble the scorers before edging Mills (3-58) to slip in the next over.
That brought Ambrose, also without a score in the series, out to join Pietersen, who was using his long reach to counter the swinging ball.
And the little-and-large pair produced a fine rescue act, adding 161 in 50 overs to leave Vettori starting to ponder the wisdom of his decision, especially when Pietersen reached three figures with a cover-driven four off Martin midway through the evening session.
But the second new-ball came to the tourists' rescue in the final 10 overs of the day as O'Brien made a double intervention.
The Wellington seamer had both Pietersen and Ambrose caught behind to leave honours even at the close with Stuart Broad unbeaten on 15 in the company of James Anderson (1no).