The hosts were talking fancifully the previous evening about the prospect of rewriting Test cricket history by pulling off a world-record run chase of 455.
But reality bit on a mostly cloudy day as only captain Alastair Cook (56) and then Jos Buttler (73) lasted long.
England lost four early wickets for 15 runs and never appeared set for a successful rearguard, eventually all out for 255 with 19.1 overs remaining.
By lunch, at 102 for five and even with Cook still undefeated, it was obvious the limit of their ambition could only be to try to eke out remaining wickets rather than ruffle the Kiwis’ feathers with a sustained four-an-over run rate.
Trent Boult and Mark Craig delivered for New Zealand, with two morning wickets each. Then part-time off-spinner Kane Williamson (three for 15) struck three times in only seven overs – in three spells – including the prize wicket of Cook.
Adam Lyth was first to go after England resumed on 44 for none – to a very good ball from Boult, swinging away from off and middle and taking a very faint outside edge after a secondary movement off the pitch. It was hard to see how Lyth could have done much differently.
But the same could not be said for England’s next two departures. Gary Ballance was bowled by Boult for the second time in the match, paying again for staying back in his crease to full length and this time bowled off his pads by the left-armer’s variation delivery into him.
Then Ian Bell extended his poor run to 55 in eight innings when he compliantly guided a low catch off a closed but defensive face to a leg-slip posted moments beforehand by Brendon McCullum for Craig.
It was Joe Root who had, rather surprisingly, emphasised England’s chances of an improbable victory at his close-of-play press conference on Monday.
If he was still entertaining that prospect, he never got an even break to try – pushing Craig firmly off the back foot but straight on the line of short-leg Tom Latham, who stood his ground and grabbed a rebound off his chest to send the Yorkshire batsman back unluckily for a second-ball duck in front of a sparse home crowd.
England had lost three wickets for one run and appeared to be folding under pressure. Cook found an ally in Ben Stokes to add 40 runs, only for another McCullum hunch to work a treat just before lunch. He brought Williamson on as an alternative off-spinner after Craig had bowled unchanged from the Kirkstall Lane end, and with his fifth delivery he had Stokes edging a little extra bounce behind.
Cook stood firm to complete his half-century, with a cut off Craig for just his third four, and then – three days after becoming England’s all-time highest Test runscorer – to reach a career aggregate of 9,000. But when he was lbw to off-spin for the second time in the match in mid-afternoon, pushing forward in defence this time rather than sweeping and to Williamson rather than Craig, with the captain went all serious pretension to England surviving the day.
Moeen Ali was seventh out, bowled playing no shot to Matt Henry – and although Stuart Broad and Mark Wood both kept Buttler company to help him reach his half-century, the conclusion was foregone before the tourists completed the job with the second new ball.
Buttler dug in as others came and went until he was last out, lbw shouldering arms to Craig (three for 73). But no-one approached the permanence of Cook, who batted for almost 17-and-a-half hours in the series.
If he could just have mustered another couple, he might have been able to salvage a draw in this match after all at the start of this Ashes summer – and stop New Zealand winning their first Test in England this century.