Michael Vaughan called on his side to produce "aggressive, vibrant cricket" in the lead-up to the first Test at Lord's, and his bowlers responded in kind to reduce New Zealand to 109 for 5 by tea. Such perilous positions are of little consequence when Brendon McCullum is at the crease, however, and his magnificent 97 - at a run-a-ball - took the sheen off England's spirited display on a dank and chilly first day of the international season.
Before McCullum missed a clever quicker delivery from Monty Panesar prior to bad light stopping play, he was threatening to completely transform New Zealand's day, not just rescue them from the bowels of complacency. Coming to the crease with his side tottering on 41 for 3, he found little support in New Zealand's typically fragile top six until Jacob Oram arrived at No.7, with whom he put on 99 exhilarating runs in 19 overs.
His 97 beat the 96 he made at this same ground four years ago, and though he has again failed to reach three figures - he has yet to make a Test hundred against meaningful opposition - today's innings was a microcosm of his growing international stature. Promoted to No.5 - he would like to be even higher than that - his first 30 runs were part scratchy, part defensive: a rescue act. Only once he'd passed his 65-ball fifty did McCullum the entertainer break free, creaming the disappointing Ryan Sidebottom through extra cover; lifting Panesar for a straight six before crashing Stuart Broad over mid-off into the Warner Stand for the day's most extraordinary stroke. The difference in self-belief and class between McCullum and his colleagues is so stark as to be almost alien.
Prior to McCullum's derring do, it was England who owned the day. The morning session was washed out by English summer drizzle, providing Vaughan optimum conditions in which to insert New Zealand's brittle top-order. Choosing not to call-up Matthew Hoggard - in spite of his nous in green-and-seaming conditions - the onus fell on James Anderson to provide the spunk with the new ball, and he justified the selectors' belief in him with a fast and fiery opening spell of 2 for 27. Jamie How nibbled at a wide one while Aaron Redmond - son of Rodney, a one-Test-wonder in 1972-73 - fell for a five-ball duck on his Test debut.
Broad, who was later savaged by McCullum, supported Anderson superbly with a variety of fast legcutters to the right-handers, and coped well with Ross Taylor's frenzied attack. Taylor still appeared hungover from his recent display in the Indian Premier League, and his innings epitomised New Zealand's shaky confidence. Bangalore this was not; he took every opportunity to put England's bowlers off with a squirted edge down to third man; a hectic single, for which he should have been run out when he finished at the same end as James Marshall, and a desperate slice over the slips off Sidebottom. At least New Zealand's run-rate was moving, albeit with fraught intent. Taylor's hectic innings ended with the day's most careless shot, trying to pull Broad and skying him straight to Paul Collingwood, running back at second slip.
Like Taylor, Marshall also batted in a frenzy. He was caught behind off a no-ball from Anderson when 9 and slashed the same bowler just over Kevin Pietersen's head at gully before an ill-balanced drive sent an edge flying straight to Andrew Strauss at first slip. Four years ago, Strauss made his debut here against the same opposition, and - after a disappointing 2007 - there was tangible glee that his career has come full circle.
Then, it was all about McCullum. His customary one-day shimmy down the pitch was only in evidence a few times, but such was his timing that no bowler - least of all Broad, whose spell from the Pavilion End was too full - was spared. His motionless reaction to Panesar's wonderfully flighted quicker ball which squeezed through bat and pad screamed disappointment, yet his 97 has saved New Zealand from near capitulation.
In fact, so much so, that the honours are just about even.