It was the third major one-day competition established in England and Wales after the Sunday League and the Gillette Cup. Traditionally a 'big day out' for the finalist's supporters, it was the less prestigious of the two cups. It began as a 55 over a side game, but was later reduced to 50. The winning team in the first cup final in 1972, Leicestershire won £2,500, the losing finalists Yorkshire £1,000 and Chris Balderstone, winner of the man of the match – the coveted 'Gold Award' – £100.
Twenty teams were organised into four zonal groups in its original format with the games played at the start of the season in May. The (then) seventeen first-class counties were joined by three other teams, Minor Counties (North), Minor Counties (South) and Cambridge University who alternated with Oxford University. Each team played the others in the group, the winners of each game awarded three points plus, in its first year, a bonus point for bowling their opponents out. The first two teams in each group went on to contest a quarter-final knock-out stage. Groups were set up to create 'derby' games.
in 1975, the Oxford and Cambridge university sides combined to form an Oxford & Cambridge team which competed in every season thereafter. In 1976 the groupings were reorganised to remove the geographical element and the Minor Counties were divided into East and West instead of North and South. Scotland entered the competition in 1980 and the Minor Counties were reduced to one combined team. Durham joined the competition in 1992, having become a first-class county; Ireland joined in 1994 and the competition was streamlined to a straight knock-out cup. Mike Atherton's Combined Universities side almost reached the semi-finals in 1989 and Ireland defeated Middlesex eight years later.
The final was played at Lord's, initially in mid-July, but latterly in late June. Viv Richards of Somerset made the highest score in a final, an unbeaten 132. Ken Higgs of Leicestershire took a hat-trick (Alan Butcher, Pat Pocock and Arnold Long) against Surrey in the final of 1974, but still ended on the losing side. Other notable performances in its later days include Mark Alleyne's century for Gloucestershire in 1999, 112 from Aravinda de Silva as Kent lost in 1995, and Ben Hollioake's 115-ball 98 for Surrey in 1997.
The highest total ever recorded in the group matches was the 388 scored by Essex against Scotland in 1992. Graham Gooch scored 127 as Scotland lost by 272 runs.