Opener Vikram Solanki struck a watchful 62 but Zimbabwe's young bowlers had restricted England to 198 for five before play was abandoned for the day in the ICC Champions Trophy clash at Edgbaston, Birmingham on Friday.
The players will return to complete the 50-over Group D match on Saturday as play had started four hours late because of heavy rain.
Solanki fell lbw to Vusi Sibanda to leave Paul Collingwood and Geraint Jones at the crease when more drizzle began to fall.
Zimbabwe took advantage of winning the toss in overcast conditions with neat bowling and fielding, though the England batsmen's choice of shot was often to blame for their dismissals.
World one-day player of the year Andrew Flintoff fell cheaply, caught by Douglas Hondo after getting underneath a heave to long off.
Hondo had first removed Marcus Trescothick for 10 when the opener played away from his body and edged a catch to Brendan Taylor at slip.
The impressive Edward Rainsford then tempted Michael Vaughan (17) to edge a drive to Mark Vermeulen, and he grabbed his second wicket when captain and wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu took a superb one-handed diving catch to dismiss Andrew Strauss for 25.
Taibu, the youngest captain in the tournament at just 21, recovered from a hamstring strain to lead his inexperienced but surprisingly combative team.
Opening bowler Tinashe Panyangara made a dreadful start, however, bowling seven wides in a 13-ball first over before recovering to dismiss Flintoff.