The first international cricket match was played between Canada and the United States, on 24 and 25 September 1844. However, the first credited Test match was played in 1877 between Australia and England, and the two teams competed regularly for The Ashes in subsequent years. South Africa was admitted to Test status in 1889. Representative cricket teams were selected to tour each other, resulting in bilateral competition. Cricket was also included as an Olympic sport at the 1900 Paris Games, where Great Britain defeated France to win the gold medal. This was the only appearance of cricket at the Summer Olympics.
The number of nations playing Test cricket increased gradually over time, with the addition of West Indies in 1928, New Zealand in 1930, India in 1932, and Pakistan in 1952. However, international cricket continued to be played as bilateral Test matches over three, four or five days.
In the early 1960s, English county cricket teams began playing a shortened version of cricket which only lasted for one day. Starting in 1962 with a four-team knockout competition known as the Midlands Knock-Out Cup, and continuing with the inaugural Gillette Cup in 1963, one-day cricket grew in popularity in England. A national Sunday League was formed in 1969. The first One-Day International match was played on the fifth day of a rain-aborted Test match between England and Australia at Melbourne in 1971, to fill the time available and as compensation for the frustrated crowd. It was a forty over game with eight balls per over. The success and popularity of the domestic one-day competitions in England and other parts of the world, as well as the early One-Day Internationals, prompted the ICC to consider organizing a Cricket World Cup.
From the first World Cup in 1975 up to the 2019 World Cup, the majority of teams taking part qualified automatically. Until the 2015 World Cup this was mostly through having Full Membership of the ICC, and for the 2019 World Cup this was mostly through ranking position in the ICC ODI Championship.
The inaugural Cricket World Cup was hosted in 1975 by England, the only nation able to put forward the resources to stage an event of such magnitude at the time. The first three tournaments were held in England and officially known as the Prudential Cup after the sponsors Prudential plc. The matches consisted of 60 six-ball overs per team, played during daytime in the traditional form, with the players wearing cricket whites and using red cricket balls.
The first World Cup was organised in England in June 1975, with the first ODI cricket match having been played only four years earlier. However, a separate Women's Cricket World Cup had been held two years before the first men's tournament, and a tournament involving multiple international teams had been held as early as 1912, when a triangular tournament of Test matches was played between Australia, England and South Africa. The first three World Cups were held in England. From the 1987 tournament onwards, hosting has been shared between countries under an unofficial rotation system, with fourteen ICC members having hosted at least one match in the tournament.
Since the second World Cup in 1979 up to the 2019 World Cup, the teams that qualified automatically were joined by a small number of others who qualified for the World Cup through the qualification process. The first qualifying tournament being the ICC Trophy; later the process expanding with pre-qualifying tournaments. For the 2011 World Cup, the ICC World Cricket League replaced the past pre-qualifying processes; and the name "ICC Trophy" was changed to "ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Qualifier". The World Cricket League was the qualification system provided to allow the Associate and Affiliate members of the ICC more opportunities to qualify. The number of teams qualifying varied throughout the years.
Sri Lanka, as a co-host of the 1996 World Cup, was the first host to win the tournament, though the final was held in Pakistan. India won in 2011 as host and was the first team to win a final played in their own country. Australia and England repeated the feat in 2015 and 2019 respectively. Other than this, England made it to the final as a host in 1979. Other countries which have achieved or equalled their best World Cup results while co-hosting the tournament are New Zealand as finalists in 2015, Zimbabwe who reached the Super Six in 2003, and Kenya as semi-finalists in 2003. In 1987, co-hosts India and Pakistan both reached the semi-finals, but were eliminated by England and Australia respectively. Australia in 1992, England in 1999, South Africa in 2003, and Bangladesh in 2011 have been host teams that were eliminated in the first round.
Many of the tournaments have been jointly hosted by nations from the same geographical region, such as South Asia in 1987, 1996 and 2011, Australasia (in Australia and New Zealand) in 1992 and 2015, Southern Africa in 2003 and West Indies in 2007.
The format of the Cricket World Cup has changed greatly over the course of its history. Each of the first four tournaments was played by eight teams, divided into two groups of four. The competition consisted of two stages, a group stage and a knock-out stage. The four teams in each group played each other in the round-robin group stage, with the top two teams in each group progressing to the semi-finals. The winners of the semi-finals played against each other in the final. With South Africa returning in the fifth tournament in 1992 as a result of the end of the apartheid boycott, nine teams played each other once in the group phase, and the top four teams progressed to the semi-finals. The tournament was further expanded in 1996, with two groups of six teams. The top four teams from each group progressed to quarter-finals and semi-finals.
In 1999, the event was hosted by England, with some matches also being held in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Netherlands. Twelve teams contested the World Cup. Australia qualified for the semi-finals after reaching their target in their Super 6 match against South Africa off the final over of the match. They then proceeded to the final with a tied match in the semi-final also against South Africa where a mix-up between South African batsmen Lance Klusener and Allan Donald saw Donald drop his bat and stranded mid-pitch to be run out. In the final, Australia dismissed Pakistan for 132 and then reached the target in less than 20 overs and with eight wickets in hand.
The first multilateral competition at international level was the 1912 Triangular Tournament, a Test cricket tournament played in England between all three Test-playing nations at the time: England, Australia and South Africa. The event was not a success: the summer was exceptionally wet, making play difficult on damp uncovered pitches, and crowd attendances were poor, attributed to a "surfeit of cricket". Since then, international Test cricket has generally been organised as bilateral series: a multilateral Test tournament was not organised again until the triangular Asian Test Championship in 1999.
India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh together hosted the 2011 World Cup. Pakistan was stripped of its hosting rights following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, with the games originally scheduled for Pakistan redistributed to the other host countries. The number of teams participating in the World Cup was reduced to fourteen. Australia lost their final group stage match against Pakistan on 19 March 2011, ending an unbeaten streak of 35 World Cup matches, which had begun on 23 May 1999. India won their second World Cup title by beating Sri Lanka by 6 wickets in the final at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, making India the first country to win the World Cup at home. This was also the first time that two Asian countries faced each other in a World Cup Final.
In 2007, the tournament was hosted by the West Indies and expanded to sixteen teams. Following Pakistan's upset loss to World Cup debutants Ireland in the group stage, Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room. Jamaican police had initially launched a murder investigation into Woolmer's death but later confirmed that he died of heart failure. Australia defeated Sri Lanka in the final by 53 runs (D/L) in farcical light conditions, and extended their undefeated run in the World Cup to 29 matches and winning three straight championships.
Twenty nations have qualified for the Cricket World Cup at least once. Six teams have competed in every tournament, five of which have won the title. The West Indies won the first two tournaments, Australia has won six, India has won two, while Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England have each won once. The West Indies (1975 and 1979) and Australia (1999, 2003 and 2007) are the only teams to have won consecutive titles. Australia has played in eight of the thirteen finals (1975, 1987, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2015 and 2023). New Zealand has yet to win the World Cup, but has been runners-up two times (2015 and 2019). The best result by a non-Test playing nation is the semi-final appearance by Kenya in the 2003 tournament; while the best result by a non-Test playing team on their debut is the Super 8 (second round) by Ireland in 2007.
In November 2021, ICC published the name of the hosts for ICC events to be played between 2024 and 2031 cycle. The hosts for the 50-over World Cup along with T20 World Cup and Champions Trophy were selected through a competitive bidding process.