Writing in the Age, Greg Baum nails it: The current edition of the Ashes is compelling not in the way the 2005 version was, as a contest between two equals, but because it is proving to be a contest between two equally inept outfits.
Neither team, absent a lot of help from the elements, can bowl the other out; neither team, absent tons of luck, can dominate the other with the bat. Baum’s premise:
In 2005, England rose to the occasion to shock a still great Australian team, and so momentarily establish itself as great. The teams were evenly matched, the weather was mostly fine and the standard of cricket was consistently high and sometimes sublime. The sense was that if Australia gathered itself up, it would win. The surprise was that England did not let it.
In 2009, Australia is not the team it was, heroics in South Africa notwithstanding, and England is not the team it could be. In the absence of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, it is hardly heretical to say so of Australia, and it is undeniable about England.
It means they’re as bad as each other, which means they’re as good as each other, which means it is impossible to know yet how it all might end. In 2005, the outcome was unpredicted, in 2009 unpredictable. Even the standard of umpiring has declined, though Damien Martyn might demur.