England had no answer to a limping Martin Guptill as the New Zealand opener defied the pain of a hamstring strain to help his captain Brendon McCullum pull off a three-wicket victory.
Guptill had to abandon his innings initially on just three, with runners no longer allowed in international cricket, but he returned at the fall of the seventh wicket to get the hosts over the line in pursuit of 258.
Forty-one runs were still needed when he joined McCullum with four overs left. But the opener was to hit the winning run in the penultimate over to finish unbeaten on 27 as the Kiwis took a 1-0 lead with two more matches to play after this first one-day international at Seddon Park.
England's prospects were almost immediately enhanced in the field when James Anderson marked his return to action with a record-breaking 529th international wicket. He bowled BJ Watling through the gate with an inswinger and therefore went ahead of Ian Botham as England's all-time leading wicket-taker across all international formats.
Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott both reached the 20s before falling to Chris Woakes. Kane Williamson, who survived a tough chance to Anderson at midwicket off a fierce pull at Graeme Swann on 73, was still carrying the game when he was run out just a single later after some smart work by Chris Woakes.
Steven Finn soon had James Franklin caught behind; then just when the McCullum brothers were gathering ominous momentum, Nathan was given out lbw pushing forward to Swann. But Brendon McCullum - who would hit three sixes and six fours - survived a tough chance to Jonathan Trott on 52 off Finn, and he and Guptill took telling advantage.
England's trio of half-centurions had laid the foundations for a near par total in stands of 84 and 89 for the second and third wickets.
After being put in, Alastair Cook went in the fourth over to a good ball from Mitchell McClenaghan. Ian Bell went on to his 50 from 67 balls with a chip from the crease off Andrew Ellis straight over long-on for his second six. But soon afterwards, up the wicket to try to manufacture runs into the off side off Franklin, he edged behind.
Trott went selflessly, bowled making room in the powerplay; then Morgan followed him for just a single when he speared a low catch to point, very well held by Guptill. Jos Buttler hit two sixes off just 13 balls. But immediately after the second, crashing McClenaghan over wide long-on off the back foot, he toe-ended a full toss straight to extra-cover.
When Joe Root also went trying to slog, bowled by Franklin, England were in danger of falling disappointingly short. The tail chipped in to help salvage 68 for seven in the last 10 available overs - a statistic which would pale in comparison to Guptill's 24 from just 10 balls in his triumphant late return.