England still a threat without Stokes - Johnson

Ben Stokes fell to a pumped-up Mitchell Johnson Getty Images

Mitchell Johnson, the man who inspired Australia to a 5-0 whitewash over England in 2013-14, has warned Steven Smith's side not to underestimate the tourists this time around - even if they line up without Ben Stokes.

Stokes is currently under investigation by police for his part in a fight outside a nightclub in Bristol last month, and is not expected to travel with England's Test squad when they set out for Australia on Saturday. His absence would require England to rebalance their side, with the allrounder a key cog at No. 6 in the batting order.

The phoney war that usually precedes an Ashes series has already begun, with David Warner, Australia's vice-captain, saying he was suspended for "a lot less" after an incident in 2013, and former captain Mark Taylor suggesting it would be "very difficult" for England to pick Stokes now.

However, Johnson suggested that while Australia's strong bowling attack gave them the edge, there should be no sense of complacency, as that "can bite you in the backside".

"I don't think you can read too much into what people are commenting on 'no Stokes, no England'," Johnson told the BBC. "If you're Australia, you don't want to be thinking they can't win because Stokes isn't there - that can bite you in the backside pretty quickly."

Johnson was one of Michael Clarke's main weapons on England's previous visit to Australia four years ago - during which Stokes made his Test debut - the left-armer taking 37 wickets as the Ashes were wrenched back in dramatic fashion.

Although he has since retired, Australia's pace attack will not be short of cutting edge, with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins offering a variety of skills to test England. The loss of Stokes would further impact on England's vulnerable batting, with only Alastair Cook and Joe Root settled among the top five.

While England managed to win back-to-back series against South Africa and West Indies during their home summer, Root's first engagements as captain, they displayed some familiar weaknesses. Australia, meanwhile, lost a Test to Bangladesh for the first time in August.

Smith's team were also beaten by South Africa at home last year but Johnson expects the pressure to be on England's batting in unfamiliar conditions.

"I'm still confident that Australia can win the series, but the performances recently haven't been great from both sides," Johnson said. "The wickets are a little bouncier and faster, so some of these new guys might find it harder, and that's where the Australian bowling attack is strong."