The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
When people talk about snooker’s “Big Four”, they are generally referring to the quartet of stars around the turn of century that included Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and Mark Williams.
But there was another “Big Four” that preceded that one by about a decade, and for a spell it was just as dominant.
That was rarely more evident than during the 1991/92 snooker season when Hendry was out in front alongside world champion John Parrott, former world number one Steve Davis, and fan favourite Jimmy White.
Each of the ten ranking event finals from that campaign featured at least one of the four – with James Wattana the only player to break the stranglehold that they had on the silverware that term when he became the first Asian player to claim a ranking title.
Wattana denied Parrott in the final of the Strachan Open, just weeks after compiling a 147 break in the British Open on the same day his father died from gunshot wounds in Thailand.
Aside from that remarkable story, the destination of all the major trophies seemed to go one of four ways.
In 1991, the game was opened up by the governing body to permit any aspiring cueist the opportunity to become professional.
The introduction of a tour entry fee meant that, effectively overnight, there were hundreds of more players on the circuit.
The implications were massive, not only on the professional game but also on the amateur scene within the UK, which not long after began to endure a steady decline.
Qualifying events were now huge undertakings, often staged months before the main stages actually took place.
Peter Ebdon, who announced his retirement from the sport last week, was one of the budding competitors entering the fold and played more than 50 preliminary round matches during the 1991/92 snooker season – including eight to make his debut at the Crucible Theatre.
At the World Championship, Ebdon stunned Steve Davis in the first round to inflict a first defeat in a decade at the opening hurdle for the six-time champion.
Davis had gone to Sheffield full of aspirations of reclaiming the crown he had lost in each of the previous two campaigns.
The “Nugget” had lost to Hendry in the Grand Prix title decider right at the outset of the campaign, but he began the New Year as the man in form.
Davis gained revenge over the Scot with a gritty 9-8 triumph in the final of the Mercantile Credit Classic – the last year the long-running tournament was held.
A triumph in the Asian Open quickly followed in Bangkok when Davis overcame another emerging pro in Alan McManus.
But a 10-4 loss to Ebdon consigned Davis to another disappointing conclusion at a time when he was previously so used to celebrating the riches of success.
Parrott’s defence also fell short, the latest in a growing line of competitors who succumbed to the “Curse of the Crucible”.
The Liverpudlian won two out of the first three ranking titles that season, beating White in the UK Championship final just as he had done at the Crucible half a year earlier for world glory.
Yet, a third defeat in a Masters final to Hendry broke his momentum, with the latter claiming the prestigious invitational for a fourth year on the trot.
The outcome of the 1992 World Snooker Championship would come down then to Hendry and the other formidable challenger at the time, the “Whirlwind”.
White quickly recovered from his defeat to Parrott in Preston to kickstart what was arguably the Londoner’s most prolific calendar year of his career.
Victories over Wattana and Mark Johnston-Allen in the finals of the British and European Opens meant that White entered Sheffield as one of the favourites again.
A terrific 147 break in his opening match – only the second in the World Championship’s history – signalled his intent to finally fulfill his potential on the biggest stage of them all.
White edged Canadian duo Alain Robidoux and Jim Wych before a semi-final success over McManus sent him through to a third straight final, and a fourth overall.
Hendry was, of course, the opponent in waiting after a relatively routine route to the final in which he managed to negotiate the potential banana skin of Wattana but otherwise coasted through the four rounds.
A tight but high-quality early exchange saw both Hendry and White compile century breaks, and until midway through the second session the scores were relatively even.
White, though, began to pull away and near the end of the third session on the last day he led 14-8, with the winning line finally within his reach.
Chances in each of the remaining two frames of the penultimate session fell to the world number three – that he couldn’t convert to extend his advantage would prove ominous.
Hendry pinched both, including the 24th frame with a high-pressured brown that he considers to be one of the best shots of his entire career, to trail by just four frames heading into the evening’s play.
White was obviously still the favourite, but he could never get closer to the winning line as a ruthless Hendry reeled him in one frame at a time.
By the end it was an onslaught, and Hendry produced an incredible hat-trick of century breaks in the last five frames to complete an astounding turnaround from 14-8 down to win 18-14.
Hendry had proven for the second time that he was the “King of the Crucible” and at the forefront of the so-called “Big Four”.
At the end of 1991/92 snooker season, however, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams duly arrived on the scene, and it wouldn’t be too long until they each had their say on the matter.