Cricket may not have reached Lancashire until the 18th century. The earliest known reference to cricket being played in the county is in 1781. In 1816, Manchester Cricket Club was founded and soon became representative of Lancashire as a county in the same way that Sheffield Cricket Club and Nottingham Cricket Club represented Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.
Manchester played mostly against opponents from the north of England and its matches from July 1844 until 1864 (including some in which the team was styled "Lancashire") have important status per the ACS classification. Ten of these were against Sheffield, who in three of them were called Yorkshire. Other opponents included Surrey, Sussex and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). On 23, 24 & 25 July 1849, the Sheffield and Manchester clubs played each other at the Hyde Park Ground in Sheffield and the fixture was called "Yorkshire versus Lancashire". As such, it was the first match to involve a Lancashire county team and also, therefore, the first "Roses Match". Yorkshire won by 5 wickets.
A noted Manchester player was John Sherman. On 27 July 1852, he made his final top-class appearance for Manchester against Sheffield at the Hyde Park Ground. His career had spanned 44 seasons from his debut at Lord's Old Ground on 20 September 1809 when he played for Beauclerk's XI against Ladbroke's XI. His was the longest career span, equalled only by W. G. Grace.
In their early years, the club played their cricket on land adjacent to the Manchester Botanical Garden and leased from the Trafford family. In 1856, Sir Humphrey de Trafford identified this land as being an ideal location for the planned Manchester Art and Treasures Exhibition. Sir Humphrey was a member of the Executive Committee planning the exhibition who offered Manchester Cricket Club £500 in compensation for the remainder of their lease. The club, however, insisted on a figure of £1,000 and agreed to vacate the site ahead of the 1857 season, moving to the inferior location (as it was further from transport links and only accessible via a long rough track) that subsequently became Old Trafford Cricket Ground, the home of Lancashire cricket ever since.
Lancashire County Cricket Club was formally constituted on 12 January 1864 at a meeting of thirteen Lancashire cricket clubs in Manchester. In 1865, the new club joined the County Championship and played its initial important match against Middlesex at Old Trafford on 20, 21 and 22 July. The Manchester club was superseded by the county club and ceased to have important match status in its own right.