|The injury is a further blow to Australia's injury-hit fast bowling attack ahead of the New Zealand series [AFP]
Australia skipper Michael Clarke thinks pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson will benefit from time out of cricket while he recovers from a foot injury that is likely to keep him sidelined for five months.
Johnson has had a series of medical tests since returning from Australia's tour to South Africa last week and has been told he needs an operation to repair soft tissue damage around the big toe on his left foot.
Cricket Australia said Johnson would travel to Melbourne later Wednesday for final assessment by a surgical team, with team doctor Trefor James saying surgery could follow within 24 hours.
Australian team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris said rehabilitation from the surgery was expected to keep Johnson out for four to five months, ruling him out of the home Test series against New Zealand and India and likely the West Indies tour starting in March.
The 30-year-old Johnson has been in indifferent form with the ball in recent series, and the big, strong left-arm quick even had to modify his run up in the second Test against South Africa. His haul of only three wickets for 255 in the drawn 1-1 series in South Africa had him under increasing pressure to retain his spot in the pace attack.
Ben Cutting, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc have been drafted into the Australian squad for the first Test against New Zealand starting Thursday at the Gabba, with Peter Siddle expected to lead the attack. Australia's bowling stocks were further eroded with Shane Watson and Ryan Harris unavailable for the opener against New Zealand, but they are expected back during the series.
Clarke said while it was disappointing to lose Johnson for such a long period, it could have a positive spin for the paceman.
"I've said all along that he's a wonderful talent and somebody I love having around the group,'' Clarke said.
But the injury, "could have a good impact - gives him some time away from the game to clear his head and get himself fit and strong and get back.
"I don't see it as that big of a deal for Mitch. It's disappointing on behalf of the team ... but in regards to his individual career, I see no reason why he can't get back to his best, if not better, after his operation.''
Clarke used the return of Shane Warne from shoulder surgery as an example for Johnson, saying it helped the great legspinner come back "bigger and better'' and prolong his career.
Warne had periods out of the game for finger and shoulder injuries and also served a suspension for using a banned substance which he blamed on a diet pill. It all helped extend his career and make him a dangerous bowler even after he retired from Test cricket in 2007 - as the then leading all-time bowler with 708 wickets - and concentrated on Twenty20.
Johnson has taken 190 wickets in 47 Tests, but his average has blown out to 31 as he struggled for consistency over the last 18 months.
He was rested for a Test in the Ashes series last December to work on his action and made a blockbusting return with nine wickets in Perth. But his form has waned ever since and the injury may have saved selectors the tough decision to enforce time out of the Test arena.