ADELAIDE // Mitchell Johnson is set to be axed from the Australian Test squad for the first time in his career ahead of the second Ashes Test with England, which starts tomorrow.
Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, has finally lost patience with the fast-bowler and is poised to name Doug Bollinger in Johnson's place with Ryan Harris expected to replace Ben Hilfenhaus as the home side make sweeping changes to their bowling line-up after drawing the first Test.
Johnson will pay the price for his side's toothless bowling display in Brisbane where England broke record after record on their way to a second innings total of 517 for one in securing a draw after they had trailed the Australians by 221 runs after the first innings had been completed.
The 29-year-old has taken just 11 wickets in his past five Test matches and had combined figures of 0/170 at The Gabba from 42 overs, the first time he had gone wicketless in a Test in his career, and leaving Ponting with little choice but to drop him from the attack.
Australia will now place their faith in Bollinger, who was left out of the squad for the opening Test after being told he had not played sufficient cricket.
That move looks to have backfired on the Australian selectors with Johnson and Hilfenhaus the men set to pay for their side's failure in Brisbane.
"At the moment, I think Mitchell has a few little areas he has to work at and he'll do that," Ponting said yesterday when he was asked about Johnson's erratic form.
"He's always done that. He has always been a guy who has worked on every aspect of his game exceptionally hard.
"If you look at him physically, he's in unbelievable physical specimen and he's continuing to work with Troy Cooley [Australia's bowling coach] on everything to do with his action. We've always looked at him being that out-and-out strike bowler. You're not asking him to come in and bowl line and length for 10 overs like Glenn McGrath did.
"You're looking for him to come in and strike. As I said in Brisbane, he was probably a little bit off his best but we're all in the same boat."
Johnson made his Test debut for the Australians in November 2007 against Sri Lanka, and after taking four wickets there he had not looked back, despite a disappointing Ashes tour of England in 2009 where he failed to convince despite capturing 20 wickets.
Neither Bollinger nor Harris were considered fit and ready enough to take part in the opening match at The Gabba but both men should get their chance to shine at the Adelaide Oval.
While Bollinger has taken 49 wickets in the past 12 months, Harris has played just two Test matches for the national side and has not featured since the series against New Zealand last March.
The 31-year-old has recovered from a troublesome knee injury and is expected to provide more of a threat than Hilfenhaus, who has struggled to swing the ball in Adelaide in the past.
Yet, with the pitch expected to offer little assistance to the bowlers on either side, Ponting is expecting another titanic tussle against a buoyant England side following their impressive Brisbane fightback.
"This wicket here has its own characteristics which are obviously very different to the one you came up against in Brisbane," he said.
" This is probably one of the venues where you expect it to be a more drawn out tough slog of Test match cricket. I think both teams have attacks capable of taking 20 wickets and we've got to work out which three or four are going to be best suited."
One bit of good news for the Australians is that Michael Clarke will be fit to play in Adelaide after coming through a net session with Ponting yesterday.
The Australian vice captain has been struggling with a bad back and looked to be badly out of touch in Brisbane as he laboured to a score of nine off 50 balls in his lone innings.
But he believes working with Ponting had helped him in his preparations.
"I felt a little bit better, if you saw my net session I struggled at the start there and felt like it got better throughout a pretty long net session so that was good," he said.
"He [Ponting] was just mentioning that I was a bit low in my stance, so I just tried to stand a little bit taller and see if it worked."
Second Test: Tomorrow-Dec 7, Adelaide
Third Test: Dec 16-20, Perth
Fourth Test: Dec 26-30, Melbourne
Fifth Test: Jan 3-7, Sydney