Nottingham: Kevin Pietersen's 115 rescued England from a top-order collapse on the first day of the third and final Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge here Thursday.
At stumps England, who shortly after lunch slumped to 86 for five, were 273 for seven.
Their recovery was built around a sixth-wicket stand of 161 between Pietersen and wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose (67) who came in following noughts from struggling batsmen Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood.
"At 86 for five it's a scenario where you are staring down the barrel," Pietersen told reporters. "Losing three wickets straight after lunch was not in the plan but I like to stand up for England and score runs when it counts.
"It's something I pride myself on, I like to stand up when it's tough. It's a test of your character."
Frustratingly for England, Ambrose was also out before the close when caught behind off seamer Iain O'Brien, whose figures of four for 61 in 20 overs were his best in Test cricket.
Stuart Broad was 15 not out and James Anderson one not out. "Getting those two wickets at the end, it's probably honours even," said seamer Kyle Mills, who took three for 58.
"Pietersen is someone I find difficult to bowl to because he's always coming at you. He's a top player."
Mills, paid tribute to Wellington seamer O'Brien, who kept his place after bowling well during England's six-wicket second Test victory at Old Trafford.
"He's backed that up well on a wicket that didn't really suit him."
Pietersen emphasised the point by saying the pace of the pitch had worked in England's favour. "The wicket was slow, that was the only thing that helped us, otherwise we would have had a lot of problems.
"But Tim's very positive, he's like me, a cool guy. At 273, I think we're ahead of the par score here for county cricket."
New Zealand, in a match they have to win to end the series level at 1-1, were still on top at tea with England 180 for five.
And that would have been 180 for six had Jamie How at mid-wicket held a difficult low, left-handed chance offered by Ambrose, still on his tea score of 36, off O'Brien. Ambrose went on to complete a 102-ball fifty with seven fours.
Pietersen had a big stroke of luck when he went to 95 with an underside edged four off Jacob Oram as he tried to withdraw his bat.
But a classy off-driven four off Martin saw Pietersen to his 12th hundred in 39 Tests, and first at Trent Bridge, in 194 balls with 12 boundaries.
Pietersen celebrated by leaping in the air and punching his fist in front of a crowd which included Prince Philip, husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who'd opened the new Bridgford Road stand.
New Zealand, whose captain Daniel Vettori won the toss and fielded, took the new ball as soon as possible, with England 244 for five off 80 overs.
They were rewarded shortly afterwards when Pietersen tamely edged O'Brien to give debutant wicket-keeper Gareth Hopkins his first Test dismissal. England had earlier lost three wickets for two runs in 13 balls after lunch.
Andrew Strauss, England's century hero at Old Trafford, hadn't added to his lunch score of 37 he drove loosely at a wide delivery from Mills and was well-caught at first slip by Ross Taylor.
Then 84 for three became 85 for four when Bell, hitting across the line, was clearly lbw to O'Brien. And a third wicket went down in the space of 13 balls for just two runs when Collingwood edged Mills.
Bell, often accused of not scoring runs when England really need them, had now managed just 45 runs in the series and Collingwood 32.
Pietersen, trying to defend the duo, risked annoying contenders for their places by saying: "I saw a list of guys who are the top scorers in county cricket and none of them can touch Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood."
Ambrose, whose maiden century in the second Test against New Zealand in Hamilton in March came after England had collapsed to 136 for five, now found himself facing another rescue mission.
South Africa-born Pietersen, who began his English county career here for Nottinghamshire before moving to Hampshire three years ago, made his name as a flamboyant shotmaker.
But, as his 129 in the first innings of a series-clinching victory against New Zealand in Napier, where England had been 36 for four, showed, he can bat with care and his patience was much in evidence early in this innings too.
Hopkins made his debut after Brendon McCullum was declared unfit to keep wicket shortly before play because of a back problem.
However, McCullum was chosen as a batsman only in place of struggling No 3 James Marshall.