Sussex will have to do without Rashid Khan when they bid to reach the quarter-finals of the Vitality Blast tonight.
The brilliant Afghanistan leg-spinner, who has taken 17 wickets in the competition, has been told to link up with his country on Friday ahead of their T20 and one-day series in Ireland next week.
It’s a significant blow for the Sharks, who need to beat Middlesex at Hove to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2015.
Afghanistan will play three T20s and three one-day internationals against Ireland, starting on Monday.
The Blast quarter-finals begin next Thursday but head coach Jason Gillespie says the chances of him being available should Sussex go through are “slim”.
Khan has taken his wickets at an average of 14.35 with an economy rate of under seven runs an over and his 3 for 24 against Gloucestershire on Thursday set up Sussex for a four-wicket win that has left their fate in their own hands.
Gillespie said: “It’s unfortunate for us but Afghanistan have asked that Rashid travel with the team to Ireland on Friday. There is not a lot we can do but he’s been fantastic for us and he’d be welcome back any time.”
The other big contribution to Thursday’s win – the first Gloucestershire have suffered at Bristol in this season’s competition – came from opener Phil Salt, who hit 60 off 30 balls to give Sussex’s chase the perfect platform.
Only Laurie Evans has scored more runs for Sussex than Salt’s 255, which has included three half-centuries, and in a fairly inexperienced top five he has made some crucial contributions. Now he wants to help Sussex finish things off.
He said: “The job isn’t done yet but we’ve given ourselves a really good chance of getting to the quarter-finals.
“Hopefully we’ll have a big crowd behind us at Hove and we can put in a performance. It won’t be easy – when you look at Middlesex they don’t have many weak links in their line-up – but the situation is there for us and hopefully we can take advantage.”
Sussex have options when it comes to replacing Khan. Tom Bruce, who was dropped after averaging just 10 in the competition, could come back in to bolster the batting but the more likely scenario is a recall for the experienced leg-spinner Will Beer.
The 29-year-old played his 100th domestic T20 game at the start of the tournament but has found opportunities limited since then. But his vast experience could come in handy, especially with skipper Luke Wright unlikely to be available because of a back spasm.
Follow Bruce Talbot on Twitter @brucetalbot1.