A gritty BJ Watling, New Zealand’s go-to man when the chips are down, produced an unbeaten 119 to put the Black Caps ahead of England in the first innings of the opening Test on Saturday.

At stumps on day three in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand were 394/6 to lead England by 41.

The 34-year-old Watling, with a reputation for producing his best when the going is tough, has toiled under a blazing sun for almost seven hours to rescue New Zealand from a precarious situation and notch his eighth Test century.

Much of it was in partnership with Colin de Grandhomme in a 119-run stand for the sixth wicket and followed by an unbroken 78 with Mitchell Santner, who was 31 not out at stumps.

When de Grandhomme joined Watling New Zealand were 197/5, with all their recognised batsmen gone and England’s 353 looking a long way off.

The dismissal of Henry Nicholls for 41 before lunch had the tourists feeling they were heading for a comfortable first innings lead, but Watling patiently chipped away at the deficit.

De Grandhomme, meanwhile, characteristically punished anything loose with a six and seven fours as he raced to 65.

Stokes was surprisingly kept out of the attack through the onslaught until the first ball after tea, when he had instant success.

De Grandhomme slashed at a wide delivery which Dom Sibley grasped one-handed in the gully and the New Zealand all-rounder, having just returned to the crease, immediately went back to the dressing room.

Watling, carrying on with Mitchell Santner as his partner, levelled the scores turning Sam Curran to the fine-leg boundary and then put New Zealand ahead with a single through square leg.

Despite fears from both sides the previous day that the Bay Oval pitch would start to deteriorate it during its debut Test, the grounds offered little support for the fast bowlers, although Somerset spinner Jack Leach was able to extract some turn.

Watling has been involved in three of the six best New Zealand partnerships for the sixth-wicket.

He scored 124 when partnering Brendon McCullum in a 352-run stand – then a sixth-wicket world record – to save a Test against India in 2014.

The following year he broke that record in a 365-run effort with Kane Williamson against Sri Lanka and a few months later scored a century at Leeds in a famous win against England.

Against Sri Lanka in August, New Zealand won the second Test to square the series when Watling scored an unbeaten 105 in a 113-run sixth-wicket stand with de Grandhomme.