Tough customers

The joys of sitting back and watching the sparks fly as a bunch of hard cases take each other on

Clockwise from above: Spofforth, Ambrose, Grace, Pietersen © PA Photos, Getty Images

What attracts me most to this quartet is the clash of chronology and culture. Two ancients, two moderns; an Australian, an Antiguan, a Pom, and - with apologies - a South African. At school we used to titter disrespectfully at photos of WG Grace playing a forward-defensive (that gate!) and wonder how he would fare against a Curtly Ambrose lifter on a Sabina Park terror track. The general view was that the beard might get singed once or twice and the verbals would be no less fiery. "They've come to watch me bat, Curtly, not you stare menacingly."

Pietersen v Ambrose would be equally fascinating: contemporary cricket's most audaciously unorthodox batsman against a master of rib-tickling line and length, who never took kindly to anyone who tried to upset his peerless rhythm (Dermot Reeve once got a beamer for his troubles).

Frederick Spofforth is another figure who has always intrigued me. He was supposed to be mean and moody - Scyld Berry's recent book about the origins of the Ashes suggests Spofforth took a swing at England's Dick Barlow as the players left the field at the end of the Sydney Test in 1882-83 - and I'd love to see how fast he really was. Plus, his battles with WG would tell us a lot about the way the game has changed in a hundred years. We read all kinds of theories, but nothing beats first-hand experience. Apart from that, can you imagine the mid-pitch conferences between the batsmen? Would they doff caps/helmets or simply touch gloves? And what would WG make of KP's accent? The mind boggles.

Lawrence Booth is a writer with the Guardian