Given that India have already qualified for the Olympics, it was expected that the Asian Games gold-medallists will use the Azlan Shah Cup as a testing ground for youngsters.

But the national committee and team management have made their intentions clear by handpicking the strongest possible side under Sardar Singh's leadership.

India have gone for a strong 18-member squad with just three changes from last December's Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar.

Midfielder Danish Mujtaba, striker Lalit Upadhyay and defender Gurjinder Singh are the three players to miss out and in their place, midfielder Chinglensana Singh and forwards Satbir Singh and Mandeep Singh have been drafted into the side.

Also post the Terry Walsh era, the Indian hockey team is presently witnessing a transition phase.

It might be an invitational tournament, but the six-nation Azlan Shah Cup holds great significance for the Indian team, especially with a new coach in Dutchman Paul van Ass at the helm.

The Azlan Shah Cup will be Van Ass' first international assignment with the Indian team and expectedly the pressure would be high on the Dutchman.

Barely three weeks into the job, Van Ass has already made clear his expectations from tournament and feels the Azlan Shah Cup will provide him a competitive platform to get a fair idea about his wards.

"I have spent a good amount of time with the team and I understand them more each day. The aim is not to make major changes but to adapt to the new system," Van Ass said.

"During the tournament, I will be looking at the 60 minutes each player spends during the match. If a player keeps the ball for two minutes, I want to know what he does for the rest of the 58 minutes.

But it would be easier said than done for the Sardar Singh-led side as this year's Azlan Shah Cup boasts of a strong field in world champions and title holders Australia, mighty New Zealand, the ever-improving hosts Malaysia, Canada besides India and Korea.

The first challenge that awaits Van Ass' boys is the dangerous Koreans, who would be looking to avenge their 0-1 loss to same opponents in the semifinal of last year's Asian Games in front of their home crowd in Incheon.

Korea would be a tough nut to crack for the Indians and it remains to be seen how Sardar and Co manage to match the speed and counter-attacks of the nimble-footed East Asians.

Besides their striking force to be led by young Akashdeep Singh, India would rely on penalty corner specialists VR Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh to score goals for the team.

Besides Korea, India will face New Zealand on Monday, followed by games against Malaysia (April 7), Canada (April 9) and Australia (April 11).

The Azlan Shah Cup is also India's first international assignment after a gap of nearly three months. India's last international tournament was the FIH Champions Trophy in Bhubaneswar in December where they crashed out of the semifinals after losing to arch-rivals Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in other matches of the opening day, defending champions Australia will face Canada in the tournament opener and hosts Malaysia will take on New Zealand.

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