London - Somerset opener Azhar Ali is to return to Pakistan, leaving the club to look for a replacement for the end of the Championship campaign.

Azhar, 34, has scored 344 runs so far this summer for Somerset, who are four points behind leaders Essex. Pakistan have recalled all centrally contracted players to take part in their first-class competition. And Azhar has opted to go early to allow Somerset to register a replacement for the final three games.

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s deadline for him to return would have meant him missing Somerset’s final two games, against Hampshire and Essex. But for a new player to be available for those matches, he would need to be registered by 6 September, four days before they start a game against Yorkshire.

“After discussing this with Azhar, he felt that the team’s needs should come before his and he has therefore agreed to return to Pakistan early,” said director of cricket Jason Kerr. “This means that Azhar has played his last match for us this season.” Somerset, who have never won the title, are back in Championship action on Sunday when they face Warwickshire at Edgbaston, with Azhar’s compatriot Babar Azam in the side as a one-off.