Number One

Of all of the snooker facts and stats in existence, one that always surprises me is that since the world rankings came into existence in 1976, there have been just seven different players who have held the coveted top spot. Here I take a look at both the players over the years who have come close to adding their names to the list, as well as the players best placed to become the eighth number one…

As you can see from the famous faces above, the magnificent seven are:

All world champions at some point or another, it is hard to doubt the talent of any of those seven players. It is however surprising (to me at least), when considering the likes of John Spencer, Alex Higgins, Jimmy White and the many other skilled players who have picked up a cue down the years, that none of them had at least one season at the top. Indeed I also find it incredible that of the seven who have made it, five are still playing and they are all ranked inside the world’s top 25!

So who has come close to breaking their stranglehold down the years? Alex Higgins finished second on the list in both 1976/77 and 1982/3, only to be denied the top spot in the latter due to a ranking points deduction due to a disciplinary issue. Dennis Taylor and John Spencer also came close in the early days of the rankings, while Australia’s Eddie Charlton was also a consistent presence, spending five consecutive seasons ranked at number three.

Moving into the 1990’s, Jimmy White unsurprisingly spent a couple of seasons ranked in second place, while 1991 world champion John Parrott remained there for three. Following that point though it was the ‘big four’ of Hendry, Higgins, O’Sullivan and Williams who began to dominate not only the top spot, but the top four. The likes of Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon were always there or thereabouts, but apart from the 2006/7 and 2007/8 seasons in which Ken had a real chance to take top spot, they never really came too close.

Although Hendry and Williams have now faded however, age in particular catching up with Stephen, Higgins and O’Sullivan are still going strong and having shared both the number one spot and indeed the World Championship trophy for the last few years, do not look like slowing down in a hurry. Higgins is well clear at the top of the provisional rankings and barring a dramatic loss of form, looks likely to reclaim top spot for the third time in 2010/11.

But they cannot go on forever and the question of who will be the next new number one is a very interesting one indeed. Will it be one of the players currently well established such as Shaun Murphy or Stephen Maguire, or will it be another young talent such as Mark Allen or Judd Trump, who both have yet to claim titles, but appear to have the natural ability to be a top player.

Right now I suspect that the obvious choice is Murphy as not only has he demonstrated in the past that he can perform well on a very consistent basis, but having already won the World and UK titles he can also win the biggest tournaments. Elsewhere the in-form Neil Robertson has also shown strong form during the past year or so, while Mark Selby despite having endured a difficult 2009, is likely to return to winning ways at some point soon.

Whoever the next new top dog is, they will certainly be joining an illustrious list…