A crowd of fewer then 500 saw Houghton and his vice-captain, Andy Flower, provide the acceleration the innings badly needed with an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 154.
Building on the solid foundations laid on the first day, Zimbabwe pushed their total to 406 for 5 which should guarantee them a draw at the very least.
The first two sessions had yielded a paltry 129 runs. Zimbabwe had begun the day on 188 for 3 and 11 runs had been added when Mark Burmester edged an outswinger from Manoj Prabhakar to India's captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, in the slips.
Andy Pycroft fell to the same combination after lunch for 39, ending a fifth-wicket stand of 53 with Houghton without a run being added to the morning total of 252 for 4.
There was no further joy for India's attack as Houghton and Flower increased the tempo. Azharuddin rotated his six bowlers in short spells but failed to dislodge the pair who found runs easy to come by in the helpful conditions.
The partnership should have been broken shortly before stumps when Prabhakar found the edge of Flower's bat, but Kapil Dev spilled the chance at slip. Flower, whose brother Grant had scored 82 on Sunday, finshed on 55 not out with three fours to his name.
At the other end Houghton was unbeaten on 110. 'It's like a dream come true,' Houghton said. 'One could not have asked for more.'
(Zimbabwe won toss)
ZIMBABWE - First Innings
A Pycroft c Azharuddin b Prabhakar. . . . .39
M Burmester c Azharuddin b Prabhakar. . . . 7
*D L Houghton not out. . . . . . . . . . .110
A Flower not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . .55
Extras (b1 lb16 nb11). . . . . . . . . . . 28
Total (for 5). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .406
Fall cont: 4-199 5-252.
Bowling: Kapil Dev 32-11-63-1; Prabhakar 37-14- 49-2; Srinath 34-11-82-1; Raju 39-15-79-0; Kumble 31-10-64-1; Shastri 17-3-52-0.
Umpires: H Bird, I Robinson and K Kantilal.
Surrey, who were fined pounds 1,000 last month for three ball-tampering offences, have warned all their players, including the captain Alec Stewart, that there will be 'severe consequences' if the county is found guilty of ball-tampering again. County officials said after the completion of an inquiry that Stewart, who will captain England on part of their tour in December, would be held most responsible.Reuse content