There were fireworks and a feelgood factor for New Zealand, but the happy ending was England's as they wrenched back momentum heading to a ODI series decider in Auckland on Saturday.
The tourists yesterday cantered home by eight wickets with 14 balls to spare in the second one-day international on a McLean Park belter to level the series, chasing New Zealand's sub-par 269.
Not even some Brendon McCullum pyrotechnics, 74 off 36 balls, and a heart-warming seventh ODI century to former skipper Ross Taylor to break a scratchy run of form, could do the trick.
"Not enough runs, and we couldn't get any sustained period of pressure which brought wickets. Par was probably 290," McCullum said.
"We did OK to get 270 but we should have got more than that. England's new ball bowling, their end of innings bowling and also their batting was outstanding."
England were never troubled in their chase which was iced by a blistering unbeaten 79 off 56 balls from rising batting star Joe Root. He clattered seven fours and two sixes in a busy knock that snuffed out any faint New Zealand hopes.
The hosts' ragged fielding returned, too, with McCullum dropping a skier and Taylor shelling a searing pull shot, both off Root's bat from the bowling of Trent Boult.
Captain Alastair Cook (78) and Jonathan Trott (65 not out) ensured the chase went smoothly as they bounced back ominously from their Hamilton defeat.
"We knew 270 was about par, probably a little bit less and if we kept wickets in hand and we always fancied ourselves because it was a cracking batting wicket," Cook said.
New Zealand welcomed back pacemen Tim Southee and Boult, for the injured Mitchell McClenaghan, but neither could generate much swing or hurry up the batsmen.
The ODI series will now go to a shootout at the postage stamp Eden Park where both sides will want to bowl first and chase.
After being sent in, New Zealand were dismissed for 269 with seven balls left. McCullum hit furthest but the warmest glow on McLean Park followed Taylor jubilantly raising his bat.
They lifted the crowd of 6,521 to their feet, blasting 100 off 54 balls for the fifth wicket.
One standing ovation had been a while coming as a beaming Taylor raised both arms aloft and marked his first century for New Zealand since the Colombo test against Sri Lanka in November.
After a two-month hiatus and plenty of controversy over his axing, the former skipper scored 13, four, six and 22 against England and looked worryingly out of nick.
New Zealand were struggling as England's bowlers, led by the outstanding James Anderson (5-34), applied the early heat.
Anderson and Steven Finn, off his new short run, offered no width and got the ball to nip, bounce and swing as openers BJ Watling and Hamish Rutherford departed cheaply.
Taylor toiled hard and took on the rebuild with caution. His first half-century for 13 ODI innings against England came up off 81 balls, including one booming six into the Harris Stand. He ended with 100 off 117 balls, dismissed in the penultimate over.
"We all knew that Ross would get runs at some point. He's a high-class player and he's done it time and again for us. It certainly wasn't a matter of hoping, it was a matter of when it was going to happen," McCullum said.
McCullum was brutal on Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad; and twice cleared the longest boundary at long off and raced to 50 off 26 balls.
Craig McMillan's fastest ODI century for New Zealand off 67 balls was McCullum's for the taking. But he took on a long boundary again and lost, having blasted four sixes and nine fours.
The wobbles then returned for New Zealand, losing their last six wickets for 26.
Meanwhile, opener Martin Guptill is doubtful for the first test in Dunedin on March 6 after scans revealed his left hamstring strain was worse than first thought. Guptill is set for more tests today.