Mitchell Johnson has had surgery on the big toe of his left foot and Cricket Australia has confirmed the fast bowler could be sidelined for up to six months.
Cricket Australia doctor Trefor James on Thursday said Johnson underwent surgery in Melbourne for a "severe injury to ligaments, commonly referred to as 'turf toe' sustained when batting in the second Test in South Africa last week."
"Although lesser degrees of this injury can be managed without surgery, Mitchell's injury was a severe form and surgery was clearly the best option," James said. "I would expect Mitchell to be able to return to cricket in five to six months."
In Johnson's absence, Australia kicked off its summer season Thursday by restricting New Zealand to 176 for five on the opening day of the first Test at the Gabba. Mitchell Starc, a tall, left-arm fast bowler, earned his first Test cap and was the leading Australia bowler with 2-52 in 13 overs on a rain-shortened day in Brisbane.
Australia started the summer with its least experienced bowling attack in decades, with Starc and James Pattinson making their Test debuts and fast bowler Peter Siddle and spinner Nathan Lyon having only 32 Test caps between them.
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 earlier this month. 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.
Pattinson, Starc and Ben Cutting were drafted into the Australian squad for the first Test after Australia's bowling stocks were further eroded with Shane Watson, Ryan Harris and 18-year-old Pat Cummins unavailable due to injury. Cutting, the leading bowler in the domestic Sheffield Shield, missed out on a Test start.
Australia captain Michael Clarke said while it was disappointing to lose Johnson for such a long period, it "could have a good impact" on the veteran paceman because it would give him "time away 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," Clarke said on the eve of the Test. "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."
Johnson has taken 190 wickets in 47 Tests, but his average has blown out to 31 as he struggled for consistency in the past 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 for him.
Some critics have suggested Johnson may find it difficult to regain his place in the Australian XI if the younger bowlers succeed in the two-Test series against New Zealand and the four-Test series against India.
But Johnson has vowed to win his place back in the Australian attack and agrees the break would do him some good.