The ____________ is a phrase originating from the sport of cricket. It describes an area where a cricket ball can pitch during a delivery: a narrow line on and just outside a batsman's off stump. The name is derived from the opinion that this is the area in which a batsman struggles most to determine whether to play forward or back, or whether to leave the delivery.
The first recorded use of the phrase is commonly credited to former Yorkshire and England batsman, now commentator, Geoffrey Boycott whilst commentating on England's 1990 tour of the West Indies  . There are other earlier claims to coinage, however, including a televised interview with Merv Hughes who says Allan Border instructed him to bowl in the "____________" at one point in the 1988-1989 West Indies tour of Australia .
The phrase has also been used in other sports commentary. In football it is commonly used to describe a cross or pass which is delivered into the area in front of the goalkeeper and behind the last line of defence. The "-----------" in this case comes from the decision which both the last defender and the goalkeeper must make: whether to defend the ball, or leave it to the other player. The phrase was used in this context by Chris Butland during the Everton v Bolton Wanderers Premier League game on February 7th, 2009 at Goodison Park.