Kumar Sangakkara is the frontrunner to take the wicketkeeper's slot for the World XI © AFP

As the inaugural ICC Super Series in October 2005 - which will feature the top Test and one-day side taking on a World XI - draws closer, the forthcoming New Zealand-Sri Lanka series will feature an individual duel between two players vying for one spot in the world team.

Muttiah Muralitharan's name is inked in for both the Test and the one-day sides, while Sanath Jayasuriya, Stephen Fleming and Chaminda Vaas all have strong claims. The real interest, however, centres on the contest between Brendon McCullum and Kumar Sangakkara, whose remarkable skills with both bat and gloves seemingly have him cemented as wicketkeeper in both XIs.

Sangakkara's experience standing up to Murali's spin clearly gives him a head start over all other keepers but, on McCullum's recent performances, Sangakkara's selection in the world team should not be a fait accompli. McCullum did make his one-day debut as a specialist batsman in a season when injury prevented him from keeping wicket, but since then his primary role for New Zealand has been behind the stumps. When his wicketkeeping was given its toughest examination on the turning tracks in Bangladesh in October he produced a near-faultless display.

After grassing chances in Australia it is vital McCullum responds with a tidy performance against Sri Lanka in the forthcoming series if he is to be a genuine World XI contender. It remains to be seen if the minor knee fracture that he carries into the series proves to be a hindrance.

Amazingly, Sangakkara has maintained his top-order batting spot throughout his career in both forms of the game. His performances are arguably more laudable than those of the mercurial Adam Gilchrist, who makes his Test runs at No. 7.



Brendon McCullum celebrates after a thrilling win against Australia earlier this month © AFP

Although Sangakkara averages a staggering 68.14 in Tests when playing purely as a batsman, the steady improvement in his glovework and a handy average of 41.57 when playing in the dual capacity has meant that he has kept wicket in 31 of his 44 Tests. For a while Sangakkara and Romesh Kaluwitharana swapped roles regularly as Sri Lanka's first-choice keeper, but with Kaluwitharana now retired, Sangakkara resumes as chief gloveman, and arrived in New Zealand as Sri Lanka's star allrounder.

McCullum may not yet have the same status - but he is not far off. He boasts a Test batting average of 38.06 from just 10 matches, and his 96 at Lord's when coming in at No. 3 was evidence that he is capable of filling a position higher than his regular No. 8 spot. McCullum's one-day batting average of 20.56 is inferior to Sangakkara's 33.81, but it is improving, and his stunning effort with the bat which guided New Zealand to victory over Australia at Melbourne earlier this month was a sign of McCullum's class.

Even if Sangakkara emerges the better of the two, there is still a chance that he could miss out on the World XI spot. For that to happen, though, New Zealand will have to wrest the top spot from Australia by April 1, 2005. If they manage that, then it will be New Zealand who would play the World XI, and Sangakkara would have to battle it out for the wicketkeeper's spot with Gilchrist. Though Sangakkara averages 50.80 in Test cricket and 54.50 in ODIs over the last 12 months, toppling Gilchrist might be too difficult a task.

Andrew McLean is a presenter of The Cricket Club, New Zealand's only national radio cricket show (www.cricketclub.co.nz).