Two wickets from Kyle Jarvis gave Zimbabwe a boost on a tough opening day in the first Test saw them all out for 211 before restricting the West Indies to 18 for two at stumps here at the Kensington Oval.
Despite a battling topscore of 50 from opening batsman Tino Mawoyo, none of the other Zimbabwe batsmen managed an innings of note to justify their captain Brendan Taylor's surprising decision to bat first on winning the toss.
Taylor's call caught many unawares, especially in the context of a West Indies team playing three frontline fast bowlers and given that this was the tourists' first test match for almost 14 months.
Yet it was spin, or at least slow bowling that accounted for the bulk of the Zimbabwean wickets, Marlon Samuels claiming four for 13 - his best-ever test innings figures - and Shane Shillingford marking his return to the test side with three for 58.
It was the first time in 60 years that spinners had taken as many as seven wickets in the first innings of a test at Kensington Oval, a venue celebrated as a haven for fast bowlers.
Samuels, who had earlier taken a brilliant catch at gully that accounted for Hamilton Masakadza off Kemar Roach, bowled Craig Ervine for 29 with his very first delivery and then added Graeme Cremer, Jarvis and debutant Tendai Chatara, the Zimbabweans losing their last four wickets for just 15 runs.
It was Shillingford who broke a promising third-wicket partnership between Mawoyo and Taylor immediately after lunch, a sharp catch at short-leg by Kieran Powell being the first of three that he would take in that position.
Mawoyo, who brought up his second test half-century off 90 deliveries in 129 minutes with seven boundaries, lost opening partner Vusi Sibanda, bowled by Roach before adding 42 runs with Masakadza.
But Zimbabwe failed to build on a promising position of 91 for two at the lunch interval.
Paceman Shannon Gabriel uprooted the off-stump of Taylor for 26 after Shillingford had removed the obdurate Mawoyo, setbacks from which they were never really able to recover given the lack of depth in their batting.
Faced with 11 overs to the close, West Indies were unsettled by the loss of two wickets in two balls, both lbw.
Powell referred the decision against him but it was upheld on the evidence of the television reply, while there was no doubt whatsoever as to the fate of nightwatchman Roach to the first delivery that he faced.
It left Chris Gayle and Darren Bravo to survive the remaining minutes to stumps and continue the battle into the second day.