England were ambushed by “wounded soldier” Martin Guptill as New Zealand won the first one-day international by three wickets in Hamilton.
Alastair Cook’s tourists appeared to be on course for an opening victory at several stages, but in the end Guptill and New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum (69no) were triumphant at Seddon Park.
England failed to capitalise as they had hoped after being put into bat first, following half-centuries from Ian Bell (64), Jonathan Trott (68) and Yorkshire’s Joe Root (56), who has earned an England incremental contract.
Instead, Mitchell McClenaghan – who was unable to complete his final over because of a series-ending side strain – finished with four for 56 as England ran out of steam on 258 all out.
Then Kane Williamson (74) gave the run chase early substance before McCullum upped the ante at number six.
But it was Guptill, after initially retiring hurt on three with a hamstring strain, who returned to remarkable effect at number nine to hit 24 from just 10 balls as he and McCullum sealed victory with seven balls to spare.
There were four fours and a six in Guptill’s unbeaten 27 and Cook said: “When you get seven wickets, the normal next man in is a bowler.
“But it was an opening batter and he played very well.”
McCullum did even more damage, hitting six fours and three sixes from 61 balls.
“He’s a very dangerous player,” added Cook. “Whether he bats at the top of the order or coming in at six, he’s very hard to bowl to.”
The whole match was a case of what might have been for England.
“We got ourselves in a position to win,” said Cook.
“But they got themselves over the line, and we couldn’t quite manage to put the pressure on them.
“We just kept losing wickets at crucial times, and never really got the partnership towards the end of the innings – which could have got us to 280 or 290.
“We batted well up front, but probably needed a little more towards the end.
“Both sides kind of got themselves in position to win, and someone had to stand up and grab it by the scruff of the neck – and those two did it for New Zealand.”
Cook conceded his team were slightly short of match sharpness, several of them coming back after a mid-winter rest.
Asked if they will need to improve, he said: “We need to if we want to win the series. You always are a little rusty when you haven’t had a practice.”