Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 4th day December 29, 2010

Injured Harris out for up to four months

Ryan Harris was sent for surgery on his injured left ankle on Wednesday and is likely to be out for three to four months, but he hasn't entirely given up hope of being fit for the World Cup. That is a supremely optimistic goal for Harris, who broke down while running in to bowl during his 29th over on Tuesday and hobbled off the field with what was later confirmed as a stress fracture in the ankle.

It was a major disappointment for Harris, who has made a strong start to his Test career and has collected 20 wickets at 24.40 in five matches, including nine during Australia's win at the WACA this month. At 31, it won't be easy for Harris to force his way back for Australia's next Test series, especially given that he will carry a painful problem with his right knee for the rest of his career.

"He's obviously disappointed, albeit a little bit optimistic this morning," Australia's captain Ricky Ponting said after England retained the Ashes with an innings win. "I think he's actually having surgery as we speak. It looks like it could be a few months. I had a chat to him this morning and said 'it looks like it's going to be hard for you for the World Cup', and he didn't rule that out. He's that sort of character. As you saw the other day, if he's even got one leg to run on, he'll do it."

It would be a remarkable recovery if Harris was able to take part in the World Cup on the subcontinent, which begins in just over seven weeks. A more realistic goal for Harris is to be in contention for Australia's next Test tour, in Sri Lanka in August, which will be followed by a Test series in South Africa before the 2011-12 home summer.

But by then, Australia could be looking to the future, with younger fast men like Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Trent Copeland and James Pattinson all likely to push for international action in the next couple of years. Harris has been one of the quickest bowlers during the Ashes Tests and he is regarded as a genuine wicket-taker, and also has 41 ODI victims at 16.12.

"It's a massive blow for him and a massive blow for the team as well, because he has been a great performer in every game that he's played, really," Ponting said. "He's a lion-hearted bloke that has got exceptional qualities to be a very good international bowler, as we've all seen, not just over the last couple of weeks but since he debuted in the one-day team a little while ago."

Harris wasn't asked to bat during Australia's second innings, as the final wicket fell with the deficit still standing at 157 runs to make England bat again. He was heading off for an operation after the Test, while his team-mates were commiserating following their failure to regain the Ashes on home soil.

"Ryan was reviewed by a specialist in Melbourne this morning," Trefor James, the Cricket Australia doctor, said. "The specialist confirmed that the best management for the stress fracture of his left ankle would be to undergo surgery. This surgery will occur today and we expect Ryan's recovery time to be three to four months."

The injury means there will be at least one change to Australia's squad for the final Ashes Test in Sydney next week, where the spinner Michael Beer is likely to make his debut after being 12th man in Perth and Melbourne. Doug Bollinger would be the most obvious candidate to come in to the pace attack, but four fast men are not usually the preferred attack on the SCG surface.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo