England 307 (Bairstow 101, Wood 52, Southee 6-62, Boult 4-87) and 202 for 3 (Vince 76, Stoneman 60) lead New Zealand 278 (Watling 85, Broad 6-54) by 231 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
At the Gabba in November, James Vince and Mark Stoneman began a long and arduous winter as a pair of question marks in England's Test-match top three. At Christchurch in April, the pair came good in a vital century partnership for England's second wicket - good enough, that is, to set their side up for what may yet turn out to be a series-levelling victory against New Zealand, if not quite good enough to assuage the lingering doubts about their futures at the highest level.
For the record, Vince made 76, and Stoneman a career-best 60 - a pair of crucial, balm-applying performances that helped to turn a slender 29-run first-innings lead into an overall advantage of 231 on the third day at Hagley Oval, with seven wickets in hand.
By stumps, Joe Root and Dawid Malan - himself in a lean run of form - had added 37 for the fourth wicket with few alarms beyond a mix-up between the wickets, as the Barmy Army went through their full repertoire at a sleepy and autumnal venue, where the overnight changing of the clocks had lent a decidedly end-of-season feel to the contest.
And if, in two days' time, England do manage to secure their first overseas win in 13 attempts, they will owe a major debt to a 123-run stand for the second wicket between Vince and Stoneman, who showcased from the outset the sort of fluency and resolve that the selectors have long believed was within their capability.
They came together in the ninth over, following another troubling failure for Alastair Cook, and were not separated until the 47th, by which stage the shine had long gone from the new ball and New Zealand's over-reliance on the brilliance of Tim Southee and Trent Boult was beginning to be felt.
Both men began their innings knowing that further Test chances could not be guaranteed, especially after such a winter of underachievement from England's red-ball outfit. And Vince in particular - recalled for this Test having sat out in Auckland - seemed determined to go out on his own terms. He lashed his second delivery from Boult for a typically glorious cover-drive, the sort of flash of beauty that has earned him selectorial forgiveness in spite of his very average average.
Vince added two more off-side boundaries in his first seven deliveries (one of them a bit chancy, if truth be told), to establish the parameters of his innings. And his commitment to calculated aggression served him well in a typically attractive performance studded with ten boundaries, arguably the best of which was a trademark creaming through the covers, shortly before tea, to bring up the third half-century of his Test career.
At the other end, Stoneman took a more attritional route to the top - at least in the early part of his innings - as he drew the sting of New Zealand's new ball before cashing in with a quartet of rifled boundaries through the covers. He played his strokes with less flourish than Vince, maybe, but no less authority, as he bided his time on each occasion and made sure he punished the loose delivery.
But then, on 35, the composure of Stoneman's innings seemed to dissipate after he was struck on the shoulder by a Neil Wagner lifter and given out caught behind. He successfully reviewed the decision, but seemed unable thereafter to shake off the shadow of impending doom, as he developed a death wish to balls outside the off stump, particularly against the medium pace of Colin de Grandhomme.
Twice in the space of three balls, he edged de Grandhomme into the slips from round the wicket - the first looped safely away to the boundary but the second, an open-faced steer, went into Ross Taylor's right hand at first slip and straight out again. Two overs later, Stoneman brought up his fifty with another chancy slap over the cordon, off Southee, and was dropped for a second time off de Grandhomme when Southee himself, now at first slip with Taylor off the field, tipped a flying edge over the bar.
In the end, it took a brilliant spring-loaded leap from BJ Watling to bring Stoneman's innings to an end, but the manner of his departure had been sadly telegraphed for several overs before his demise.
And the same, cruelly, could also be said of Vince, who had not played with such fluency since that fateful 83 on the first day of the Ashes in Brisbane. That effort eventually ended with a "what if?" run-out, but today's provided a more familiar ending. Another ball in the channel, this time from Boult, and a cramped drive straight into the hands of first slip. He's not the first batsman whose greatest strength is also his greatest weakness - David Gower, for one, endured a career of stick for getting out so often on the drive. But Gower also averaged 44.25 to Vince's 24.90.
Still, at least England's Nos. 2 and 3 produced scores that enhanced their reputations. The same unfortunately could not be said of Cook, England's leading Test run-scorer, whose dismissal for 14 took his tally for the tour to a dismal 23 runs in four innings, at an average of 5.75 that is, by a distance, his worst return in any completed Test series.
After his tentative displays in the first three innings of the series, Cook seemed determined to make his presence felt this time out. His footwork was more confident as he latched on a brace of short balls from Southee to pick up his first boundaries of the series, but from his very next delivery, he was trapped in no-man's land by his nemesis Boult, who nipped a length ball off his outside edge to claim his wicket for the ninth time in Tests. Cook trudged off for 14 with a huge amount to ponder before England's next Test engagement, against Pakistan in May.
Cook might have anticipated being called on to bat earlier in the day, but for a combative morning's work from New Zealand's lower order. Stuart Broad eventually wrapped up the innings for 278 with figures of 6 for 54, but not before Southee had posted his first Test half-century since 2014 and Wagner and Boult had reduced the deficit to 29 in an enterprising 39-run stand for the tenth wicket.
After resuming on 192 for 6, Southee signalled New Zealand's intent by pulling the fourth ball of the morning over wide long-on for the 64th six of his Test career, drawing him level with AB de Villiers for the most by any active player, and it took the arrival of the second new ball for England to regain a measure of control, as Watling was uprooted for 85 by the ball of the innings, a full-length outswinger from James Anderson that bent from leg to off to smash the stumps. Watling had been denied his seventh Test century, but having hauled his team off the canvas at 36 for 5, he had more than played his part.
Ish Sodhi edged to the keeper to give Broad his first five-wicket haul since the Johannesburg Test against South Africa in January 2016. And when Anderson ended Southee's fun, plucking out his middle stump three balls after he had reached his fifty, England were looking at a substantial lead.
Boult and Wagner, however, had other ideas. Wagner, pinned on the helmet by a fierce Broad lifter early in his stay, slapped Anderson out of the attack with a 13-run over, including an impulsive hook over fine leg for six, while Boult - as idiosyncratic as Courtney Walsh in his pomp - ducked and dived at the crease, and occasionally connected with power. He rattled along to 16 from 22 balls before top-edging Broad to fine leg to ensure, for the second innings in the match, that all ten wickets were shared by just the opening bowlers.