Mitchell Johnson
Mitchell Johnson

Australia captain Michael Clarke believes Mitchell Johnson's enforced Test lay-off has been a blessing in disguise as the left-armer continues to emerge as a key player heading towards the Ashes.

Johnson is enjoy an astonishing renaissance to his career this summer, finally adding consistency to a game that was devastating on his day but terribly erratic when not.

This time last year, the West Australian quick was struggling with injury, terribly out of form and a return to international cricket seemed as unlikely as a Sri Lankan Test win on Australian soil.

But fast forward 12 months and Johnson is back in the Australian side, has just taken his 200th Test wicket and will turn out in his 50th game for Australia at the SCG on Thursday.

"I certainly didn't think it would be the last of Mitch," Clarke said on Wednesday when asked how far Johnson has come since his troubles last summer.

"I've always known how much talent he's had whether that's been with the bat or the ball.

"He's one of the greatest athletes I've seen play cricket."

So good has Johnson's form been that he will take the injured Shane Watson's place as the all-rounder for the Sydney Test, likely to take the new ball as well as bat at No.7.

How Johnson handles that role could be crucial for the Australians with four Tests in India starting next month followed by back-to-back Ashes series' in 2013.

With Australia losing experienced duo Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey this summer, Clarke knows how vital a firing Johnson is to his side and credits his year away from the Test side for his sparkling comeback.

"I think Mitch's time away from the game freshened his body and also freshened his mind," the skipper said.

"He's as hungry as he's ever been.

"He feels like he's back bowling and batting well and he knows in this group he's a senior player and has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

"With the right attitude, you go a long way to playing your best cricket. We left him out in Hobart and he had the right attitude. He made it clear he wanted to be back full-time."

Of course, Johnson isn't the only player who will need to step up with the retirements of Ponting and Hussey.

Clarke has challenged his team to pick up the slack to ensure the side doesn't suffer from the loss of their two most experienced stars.

"Over the next 12 months you will probably see more of the leaders that are in our group that will stand up," Clarke said.

"I asked that of the players to work on their leadership, to feel like they are captain or vice-captain of the team. You don't need a 'C' or 'VC' next to your name to be a leader of our team.

"They're (Ponting and Hussey) leaving at a time where they've helped a lot of young players come forward as leaders in out group and in next 12 months you'll see these young guys step up because they are ready for it."


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