A wonderfully absorbing one-day international which ebbed and flowed throughout was eventually won by New Zealand as they squeezed home by three wickets with four balls to spare despite Ben Stokes' intervention on his return to international cricket. Mitchell Santner was the hero at the end, hitting 45 off 27 balls, including consecutive sixes off Adil Rashid and finishing the match with another off Chris Woakes to ensure Ross Taylor's 18th ODI century, and a 178-run stand with Tom Latham, did not go to waste.
Stokes, playing for England for the first time since September 24, was brought back for a second spell in the 38th over, with New Zealand strongly placed, needing 98 off 13 overs with two well-set batsmen, and revived his team when Latham pulled to mid-on and Colin de Grandhomme edged a slower ball behind. Between those scalps Henry Nicholls also departed and when Taylor charged at Rashid, being stumped for superb 113, it appeared England would get home. New Zealand needed 41 off 25 balls with three wickets in hand.
However, the move to keep going with Rashid backfired as Santner twice cleared the leg side and then after the first four balls of the penultimate over from Tom Curran had gone for just four he found a vital boundary over square leg leaving nine off the final over. Santner inside-edge the first ball to fine leg, Woakes sent down a wide, then Santner cleared deep midwicket. It was a thriller.
England's innings, in which Jos Buttler top-scored with 79 off 63 balls, was not one of their dynamic performances, yet a commendable effort on a slow pitch where few batsmen found fluency. New Zealand were impressive at the death with just 67 coming off the final 10 overs - and 25 of those off the last two - but 284 for 8 looked formidable when the chase was reduced to 27 for 3 by excellent new-ball spells from Woakes, who claimed his 100th ODI wicket when Colin Munro edged a charge, and David Willey.
Taylor and Latham played expertly. Taylor became the third New Zealand batsman to pass 7000 ODI runs, after Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle, while Latham responded to the scrutiny over his position with just his second fifty-plus score in 32 home ODI innings. Latham gave the innings momentum, moving into the 40s at better than a run-a-ball, although was given a life on 47 when Buttler couldn't hold a thin edge down the leg side off Rashid. The pair nursed the innings into a far more stable position, ensuring the required rate didn't rise much above the seven-an-over mark while they were together.
Eoin Morgan returned to Stokes - whose first spell was four overs - and his first over back cost 11, but in his second Latham clubbed a pull to mid-on. In the next over, from Tom Curran, Nicholls drove a low catch to backward point and then Stokes struck again as England surged back into the favourites' position.
Taylor brought up his hundred off 107 balls then took two boundaries off Stokes as he showed signs of tiring and it proved his last over. It felt as though Taylor would need to do it all himself, but Santner proved otherwise.
England will rue some sloppiness in the field - particularly the second half of New Zealand's chase when dew may have been a factor - but they had managed a competitive total. It was hard especially at the beginning and the end against Tim Southee and Trent Boult, while Santner was also a challenge. Jason Roy and Joe Root had set a solid platform having realised gung-ho batting wasn't the order of the day, adding 79 in 14 overs, before New Zealand's spinners started to have their say.
Roy was defeated by Santner's arm ball, Morgan chipped Ish Sodhi's googly to mid-off the ball after pulling a six and Stokes' first innings back in the side ended on 12 when he became over-eager against Santner, top-edging to short third man. At 139 for 4, England needed to stabilise things.
Root, returning to the side after his T20 tri-series break, played serenely with some lovely touches during a 53-ball fifty - his eighth in 11 matches since the start of the Australia tour - but another hundred went begging when he was defeated by Munro's knuckle ball.
Buttler had provided a kick to the innings with consecutive sixes off Sodhi, striking wonderfully down the ground, but even he struggled to get the death bowling of Southee and Boult away until a late six off each to take his tally to five. In the end that finish proved vital for New Zealand, who continued their strong recent record of chasing on this ground, but in such a compelling match it was difficult to pick out one defining moment.