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This competition was researched and set up by Ben Brocklehurst, managing director of The Cricketer, and came to life in 1972. The original entry was from around 600 clubs and by 2006 this had fallen to 426, a sign of the growing urbanization of the country more than a decline in interest.
In the early rounds the entrants are divided into 32 groups, based on county boundaries, and in the second half of the season the 32 county winners play a knock-out competition until the last two meet in the final at Lord's at the end of the summer amid scenes of great enthusiasm and noisy partisanship.
Finalists tend to come from the more sophisticated sides, but the rigidly enforced conditions of entry, of which the two most important limit the size of a village to 3000 inhabitants and specify that all players must have played at least eight recent matches for the club, ensure that only genuine village clubs and genuine village players can enter the competition.
Sadly, these rules are stretched to the limit and each summer produces a number of reports of breaches, with the main ones relating to the fielding of ineligible players.
With so many rounds to be completed before the final, the competition usually has to start in April. Thereafter a round is scheduled for alternate Sundays throughout the season. Wet Sundays can, and do, cause difficulties but various ingenious tie-breaking devices are included in the rules, so that an artificial result can be obtained when necessary. In the last resort a match may have to be settled by the toss of a coin, in order to maintain the time schedule.
In the early rounds there is inevitably an occasional hollow victory. In 1972 one Welsh side traveled 100 miles across country to bowl the opposition out for 12 ? The visitors then scored 13 for 0 in seven balls and travelled 100 miles home again. In the later rounds, clubs who have exceeded their survival expectations sometimes have difficulties with inescapable league obligations, but most difficulties are overcome by determination and ingenuity such as a 9 am start to clear the decks in time for an afternoon league match.
There has been only one representative match and in this, in 1976, a selected village side trounced the full Surrey County XI with its seven Test players, by six wickets. This was largely due to the inspiring captaincy and batting of Terry Carter of Troon, and the fact that Surrey failed to realize the strength of the opposition until too late.
The competition has been played over 40 overs-a-side since its inception.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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