In the end, it was probably something as mundane as a precautionary scan on a mystery spinner's shoulder that collapsed the sandcastle upon which the 14th edition of the Indian Premier League had been built.
While the deadly effects of the "second wave" of Covid-19 tore through India's megalopolises with undisguised fury, turning the country into a dystopian hellscape of funeral pyres and wretched grief, the IPL had bubbled along serenely within its bio-secure environment.
That was all to change with Varun Chakravarthy, the Kolkata Knight Riders spinner who had enjoyed a modest, almost anonymous career.
On May 3, he tested positive for the virus, believed to have been picked up when he left the "bubble" to have a scan on his injured shoulder. Despite following the "green channel" protocols in place – which includes being ushered to and from the team hotel in a secure car with driver and passenger in full PPE equipment – somewhere, somehow, a link in the chain snapped.
Along with Chakravarthy, teammate Sandeep Warrier also returned a positive test and the team's match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, scheduled for that night in Ahmedabad, was postponed.
The Knight Riders, one of the glamour franchises of the IPL coached by New Zealand's Brendon McCullum, were placed in five-day quarantine in their hotel in the hope they would be cleared to play their next match on May 8 versus Delhi Capitals.
That particular fantasy was soon to prove no match for reality.
While news of KKR's misfortune was still sinking in, two more players tested positive on May 4, Delhi Capitals spinner Amit Mishra and Sunrisers Hyderabad wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
A tweet from the official IPL account quickly followed:
UPDATE: The Indian Premier League Governing Council (IPL GC) and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in an emergency meeting has unanimously decided to postpone IPL 2021 season with immediate effect.— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) May 4, 2021
Details - https://t.co/OgYXPj9FQy pic.twitter.com/lYmjBId8gL
Nobody was under any illusion that this was going to be a short postponement. More players and staff from within the bubbles were testing positive, including legendary former Australian batsman Mike Hussey, part of Stephen Fleming's coaching staff at Chennai Super Kings.
Any sense of anticipation had been replaced by anxiety and apprehension. The line of inquiry pivoted. There was no question about restarting the tournament - instead, everybody wanted to know how the scores of overseas players and staff were going to get home.
Among the players, talk had begun to turn about "three to four days" before the first positive test, said New Zealand Cricket Players' Association boss Heath Mills.
"Up until then all the players had been comfortable from a safety perspective about being in India," he says. "Then one or two started mentioning that they thought things were getting a bit lax. Up until then the IPL and the BCCI had done a great job and you've got to remember we're several weeks into the tournament by now.
"It was just a bit of chitter-chatter that things weren't quite as [tight]."
There were reports that some team trainings, often held at private, colonial-style clubs, were poorly secured and members of the public were getting inside the perimeter. Some worried that a sense of complacency had crept in.
They were right to be worried.
All the players, coaches, and broadcasters who travelled to India did so with eyes wide open. That was the problem. Professional athletes often lead cosseted lives; some would say a make-believe existence.
While the bio-secure environment insulated them from the worst of the pandemic risks, it couldn't stop them from seeing what was on their TV screens, their second screens, and most poignantly what they saw to and from their hotel and training and playing venues.
The messages coming back were grim. "It's dire outside," read one. They were being well looked after and felt safe, they'd say, but outside their bubble, it was a different story.
On a very good day, India provides a full-frontal assault on the senses. None of these were good days.
They could hear the tut-tutting, too. How could they justify playing cricket for big money while the poor with no access to proper health care died around them? Where was their moral compass?
To some of the New Zealanders in India, it was water off a duck's back; others felt the criticism more keenly.
"It was a discussion point," says Mills. "They're like all of us. They're humans and they can see what's going on. Is this the right thing, is this the wrong thing? They also got a lot of support from people on the ground thanking them for being there."
Some of the players got why people might feel that way, others were more bullish. Mills, for his part, could understand the opprobrium but questioned whether those pointing fingers really understood how business, or life, actually worked in India.
"I can understand those sentiments. What I would say is it not right for me to sit in New Zealand, half a world away from India, and make moral judgements about what they should be doing in their country," Mills says.
"This is an Indian domestic competition and the Indian government, the cricket board and the Indian people seemed to be comfortable with that event taking place.
"They work to different cultural and political mores than we do here in New Zealand so it was a decision for the Indians and they made their decision and we needed to respect that and have confidence in them to keep the players safe."
Some were more anxious than others.
Australians Andrew Tye, Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa made the call to leave early, as did England's Liam Livingston.
Their motivations might have been subtly different – some Australians apparently got wind that their borders were going to close to India – but the overarching reasons were the same.
Cricket's complex geopolitics made it a delicate balancing act, particularly for those from this country.
New Zealand cricket needs the IPL. It needs it far more than Australian or English cricket. The reasons for this are myriad but principally the national body cannot remunerate its players at anywhere near the same level as the bigger nations.
A big selling point is that they will not stand in the way of their players playing in the IPL. Quite the opposite: they would encourage it and market it as a realistic and aspirational part of their careers.
The wrinkle in this strategy is that New Zealand has not traditionally been a big drawcard and neither has its players. A simple shirt-sales metric would confirm that Australian and English players might offer similar on-field skills to franchises, but they offer more commercially.
So New Zealand Cricket – mostly through chief executive David White and newly appointed ICC chairman Greg Barclay – has carefully and without apology, cultivated a close relationship with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It recognised that its financial health is inextricably linked to the golden goose that is the subcontinent's trenchant love for the sport and will play its part in ensuring it continues.
From a PR perspective, this would have undoubtedly created conniptions. The last thing anybody in NZC needed was to portray the repatriation of their countrymen like a last-days-of-Saigon situation, but at the same time, they had a bunch of men increasingly anxious to come home.
A bunch of men who knew, especially the worldlier among them, that there would be little sympathy for their plight.
David White knew he'd be in for a busy week when on Tuesday evening an alert buzzed on his phone, relaying to him that the BCCI was shortly to hold an emergency meeting.
"As soon as there was a positive test within one of the bubbles I knew there was a chance it wouldn't continue," White says.
Channels of communications were set up. In India, the New Zealanders formed a Whatsapp group while from New Zealand Zoom meetings were scheduled to keep everybody informed.
The efforts would be triangulated: NZC would keep in communication with the BCCI to try to arrange departure flights through them, while the players would liaise directly with their franchises. The Players' Association would offer back-end support to all its members on the ground, which included broadcasters.
"We were working closely with all the Kiwis in India," White says. "We were committed to getting them out safely. We gave them that undertaking."
There was added complexity. While most of the New Zealanders needed to come home, some were due to fly to England to prepare for New Zealand's two-test tour of that country, to be followed by the World Test Championship final against India at Southampton.
The England and Wales Cricket Board needed to be fully appraised at all times.
At that point, the United Kingdom had red-listed any travel from India. Other options were scoped, such as flying those players – Kane Williamson, Kyle Jamieson, Mitchell Santner and physio Tommy Simsek – to the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, where they would quarantine before flying to London.
Trent Boult and coach Chris Donaldson were originally slated to be part of that group but decided they wanted to come home to see family first – so those wishes also had to be taken into account.
"We had stated from the start that the welfare needs of the players had to be the priority," White said.
A further complication surfaced in that Williamson and Santner were coming from two of the franchises – Hyderabad and Chennai – whose bubbles had been breached.
The three players and Simsek are isolating in a Delhi hotel but what seemed like a simple transfer through to London on May 11 has been thrown into disarray.
On Friday, the group was informed that the earliest the UK would accept them was May 15. NZ Cricket is understood to be looking at an option that would have them transferred to the Maldives before flying to the UK – a potentially safer option though far from airtight as the resort islands have reportedly become a favoured destination of wealthy Indians looking to escape the horrors of home.
For those coming home, the pieces of the puzzle were hardly sliding smoothly into place, either.
Flights from India to this part of the world are infrequent and Australia wasn't taking any planes, leading to a rant from broadcaster Michael Slater, holed up in said Maldives, which would rank among one of the more tone-deaf epistles of the Covid era.
If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It's a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect— Michael Slater (@mj_slats) May 3, 2021
While none of the New Zealanders reacted with such imperiousness, there was increasing unease.
"The players were getting more and more anxious," White admits. "There were a lot of mixed messages [about how they were getting home]."
The rumour mill did start to run rife. Trying to get a firm idea of who was coming back and when was complicated as each franchise seemed to have its own ideas about how to best manage the situation.
"It was very hard to get a read on what was accurate and what was rumour," says Mills.
"You've got to remember that we've got these people who are senior figures in their organisation, like Mike Hesson (Bangalore), Brendon McCullum (Kolkata), Shane Bond (Mumbai) and Stephen Fleming (Chennai), and they're in contact with their management and they're all hearing slightly different things.
"Everyone had the best intentions, everyone wanted to help, but unquestionably it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what was happening."
As early as Wednesday evening there were rumours circulating that some New Zealanders were already on charter flights destined for New Zealand paid for by the teams' billionaire owners. Other players were messaging home saying they expected to be leaving the following day.
Just before midday on Thursday, NZC put a line under the chatter, stating that aside for the UK-bound subset, the remaining New Zealanders would be shuttled to New Delhi where two charter planes would bring them home, landing in Auckland on Saturday.
As it turned out, nothing is ever quite that simple.
By Friday morning, the picture had changed again. The charter flights – one essentially paid for by the Mumbai Indians, the other by the Kolkata franchise – had both been delayed, one by 12 hours, one by a day.
As of late Friday afternoon, it was still a fool's errand to try to predict exactly when the last of the IPL'ers will touch down.
The IPL is huge.
Strip the emotion out of it, the religiosity of what cricket means in India, and the cold fact is the IPL is a US$6.2 billion sports and entertainment business. Its eight franchises, stadiums, and auxiliary operations account for thousands of jobs.
That unquestionably played a big part in the decision to host it in a country riven by the worst outbreak of Covid anywhere in the world.
Once that decision was made, the players, coaches, and broadcasters had to put faith in the bio-secure bubbles that had worked with varying degrees of success in other sporting tournaments.
The bubble insulated them from the disease until it didn't, but it didn't insulate them from the material truth of what was happening around them.
As one New Zealander texted a day ago: "We are well looked after. Things are dire outside."
Over the next week, they will leave. As commentator Simon Doull said in a tweet without saying, they know they're the lucky ones.
Dear India, You have given me so much over so many years and I am sorry to be leaving you in such trying times. To those who are suffering my heart go’s out to you and your families. Please do what you can to stay safe. Until next time take care. #india #cricket #love— Simon Doull (@Sdoull) May 5, 2021