The statistics on the Lancashire Cricket Board website reveal that since the inception of the competition in 1972, the most successful league in the Lancashire Knockout is the Northern League with 28 finalists and 19 winners.
The Bolton League is next with 23 and 11, respectively, and they are followed by the Liverpool Competition with 16 and eight. The Central Lancashire League trail these three with eight finalists and one winner.
The early years of the competition were dominated by the Northern League with all 19 of their winners coming in the first 26 years when they also provided seven of the losing finalists.
During this period they were also one of the strongest leagues in the country with Blackpool and Chorley both winning the National Knockout on more than one occasion.
Bolton League teams had performed creditably with Egerton and Little Lever winning the Lancs KO in the 70s and Farnworth CC in the 80s, with Westhoughton, Horwich, Farnworth SC and Walkden losing finalists.
From 1998 the pattern changed as Liverpool Competition and Bolton League teams began to take control of the KO with teams from the two leagues taking the winners’ trophy 13 times in 14 years and providing all but two of the runners-up. Between 2002 and 2009 Bootle were winners five times and Walkden three.
It is perhaps unfair to judge the relative strengths of leagues by the finalists alone, as one club can dominate the competition for long periods as Blackpool and Lancaster did in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Bootle did the same from the late 90’s onwards, with Bamford Fieldhouse until their demise last season being the team to beat in recent years.
A more accurate reflection could be to look at the teams who reach the quarter-final.
By this stage the draw will not have been too skewed by clubs progressing due to byes in the first round and walkovers against teams with fixture congestion in the second and third rounds.
The impact is lessened by leagues with one very strong team who may be their sole survivor in the competition.
In 2012, no league had more than two teams in the last eight, a contrast to a few years before when the Bolton League and Liverpool Competition could have four or even five teams undefeated at this stage. Last season was even more remarkable with all eight teams coming from different leagues, suggesting the standard of cricket in the county is evening out between the leagues.
As we approach the 2014 quarter-finals it is interesting to note there are only two teams remaining from Liverpool. The four leagues in Lancashire – Northern, Lancashire, Palace Shield and Ribblesdale – only supply two of the clubs, both from the Ribblesdale.
That leaves 12 teams from the five Greater Manchester leagues, four from the Lancashire County League, three apiece from the Bolton League and Central Lancashire League and two from the Bolton Association.
I think the trophy will return to Merseyside as Ormskirk look to be the best team, but it is a pity Farnworth Social Circle did not qualify for the first time for several years as they could have been real contenders again.
In the one local derby Edgworth are at home to Greenmount on July 6, the same day Westhoughton entertain Woodbank, while Prestwich will travel to Little Lever the following Sunday.