To strike the ball under the line. To fail in one's object. The allusion is to the game of tennis, in which a line is stretched in the middle of the court, and the players standing on each side have, with their rackets, to knock it alternately over the line.
“Thou hast stricken the ball under the line.” —John Heywoode's Works (London, 1566).
To take the ball before the bound. To anticipate an opportunity; to be overhasty. A metaphor from cricket, as when a batsman runs up to meet the ball at full pitch, before it bounds. (See Balle.)
Ball of Fortune (A). One tossed, like a ball, from pillar to post; one who has experienced many vicissitudes of fortune.
“Brown had been from infancy a ball for fortune to spurn at.” —SirWalterScott: Guy Mannering, chap. xxi.
The ball is with you. It is your turn now.
To have the ball at your feet. To have a thing in one's power. A metaphor from foot-ball.
“We have the ball at our feet; and, if the government will allow it ... we can now crush out the rebellion.” —Lord Auckland.
To keep the ball a-rolling. To continue without intermission. To keep the fun alive; to keep the matter going. A metaphor from the game of bandy, or la jeu de la cross.
“It is Russia that keeps the ball rolling [the Servian and Bulgarian War, 1885, fomented and encouraged by Russian agents].” —Newspaper paragraph, 1885.
To keep the ball up. Not to let conversation or fun flag; to keep the thing going. A metaphor taken from several games played with balls.
“I put in a word now and then to keep the ball up.” —Bentham.
To open the ball. To lead off the first dance at a ball. (Italian, ballaro, to dance.)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894