The Essex left-hander is not renowned for his fielding prowess, but claimed a hat-trick of good catches in the gully as the tourists restricted New Zealand to 282 for six on a good batting wicket at the close.
Cook’s three catches ensured the tourists exploited the few opportunities available during a tough opening day.
He set the tone with a sharp catch above his head to remove opener Matthew Bell, who had driven wildly at seamer Steve Harmison, and took an even better one diving low to his right to remove Stephen Fleming.
Another sprawling effort earned Matthew Hoggard his first wicket when dangerous all-rounder Jacob Oram edged an attempted drive, and with Ryan Sidebottom striking in the penultimate over to dismiss Brendon McCullum, England were satisfied with their opening-day efforts at Seddon Park.
“They’ve worked extremely hard on their catching and it’s nice for them to get their reward, especially Cook because he’s been working very hard,” said coach Peter Moores.
“I don’t think you’ll see much better than Cook’s second catch at gully because Fleming really middled it and it went really quickly.”
England seemed destined for a long day in the field when New Zealand began their innings on a flat-looking pitch — a view which was underlined when Ian Bell was taken to hospital early in the day after suffering a nasty blow to his right hand at short leg.
Then Harmison made amends for another wayward opening spell with opener Bell driving loosely straight to Cook.
His second catch 10 overs after the interval, when Fleming flashed at a wide Sidebottom delivery, lifted England’s spirits further.
They followed with another smart catch to dismiss Mathew Sinclair, who was superbly held by Paul Collingwood after the New Zealand number four drove back down the pitch. Collingwood claimed another sharp effort to end the resistance of opener Jamie How at slip, who had battled for 251 minutes to reach 92 but edged a turning delivery from Monty Panesar.
Cook completed his haul of catches shortly after tea when Oram again drove loosely and he dived to his left to unite attacking duo Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum at the crease.
Just as England appeared set to dominate, McCullum began illuminating the final session with the type of strokeplay which lit up the recent one-day series success over England. Taylor was on 20 when McCullum arrived at the crease, but was quickly passed as New Zealand’s aggressive wicketkeeper raced to his half-century off only 53 balls, which included five fours and two sixes.
But with only 11 balls remaining, McCullum chased a wider delivery from Sidebottom with the new ball, edged behind to debutant wicketkeeper Ambrose, and gave England a fresh impetus.