Grant Flower, the 21-year-old opener, provided the backbone with a defiant innings of 82 after sharing an opening stand of 100 with Kevin Arnott, who made 40.
Flower, the younger brother of the team's vice-captain Andrew, hit 13 boundaries during his 355- minute innings before being caught behind by Kiran More off Javagal Srinath in the final over of the day.
Alistair Campbell, the left- hander, had earlier boosted Zimbabwe's run-rate with a polished contribution of 45, which included six boundaries - three in one over from Kapil Dev.
But Kapil, who began the match 31 wickets behind Richard Hadlee's record Test tally of 431, responded by trapping Campbell leg before 30 minutes before the close.
The two quick wickets in the final session brought some relief to the Indian bowlers who, despite keeping the runs in check, struggled to make inroads into the Zimbabwe innings on a slow pitch that offered them little assistance.
The Indians also paid the penalty for a sluggish display in the field, Flower being dropped at slip by Manoj Prabhakar on 21 when Zimbabwe - who won the toss - had made only 45.
Charged with the task of beginning Zimbabwe's first innings since they were admitted into the family of Test-playing nations earlier this year, Arnott and Flower, not surprisingly, made a cautious start. In front of about 5,000 enthusiastic home supporters the opening pair added just 57 in 34 overs before lunch and only another 19 in the first 15 overs after the break - but, once settled in, both became more adventurous and hit flowing boundaries on both sides of the wicket to bring up the century partnership.
India had to wait until just before tea before they made their first breakthrough.
(Zimbabwe won toss)
ZIMBABWE - First Innings
K J Arnott c Raman b Kumble 40
G W Flower c More b Srinath 82
A D Campbell lbw b Kapil 45
A Pycroft not out 6
M Burmester not out 2
Extras (b1 lb8 nb4) 13
Total (for 3) 188
Fall: 1-100, 2-175, 3-186.
To bat: *D Houghton, A Flower, G Crocker, E Brandes, M Jarvis, J Traicos.
Bowling: Kapil Dev 18-6-32-1; Prabhakar 16-3- 32-0; Srinath 17-5-42-1; Raju 25-14-34-0; Kumble 14-5-31-1; Shastri 6-2-8-0
INDIA: *M Azharuddin, R Shastri, W Raman, S Manjrekar, S Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, M Prabhakar, J Srinath, K More, A Kumble, V Raju.
Umpires: H Bird, I Robinson and K Kantilal.Reuse content