Ipoh:Neck-deep in controversies and experiencing the winds of change, a young Indian side will start from the scratch as they seek to revive their fortunes through a decent showing at the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament starting from Thursday.
India may be the bronze medallists in the last two editions of the annual tournament, but this time around they have to dish out a string of extraordinary performances right from the start of their campaign against New Zealand.
Although defending champions Australia are not playing this time, four Olympic-bound nations - Canada, Belgium, Pakistan and New Zealand -, hosts Malaysia and Argentina will pose serious challenge for an inexperienced Indian team.
In recent times, India's failure to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in eight decades, a bribery scandal involving erstwhile Indian Hockey Federation Secretary K Jothikumaran and the eventual dissolution of the IHF and sacking of its President KPS Gill have rocked the system.
Besides, wooden spoon finishes at two just-concluded four-nation tournaments in Australia speaks a lot about the state of hockey in the country.
The new selection committee comprising five former greats have dropped nine players who played in Australia and named eight rookies in the 18-member squad.
However, the biggest responsibility will be on the shoulders of junior coach AK Bansal. He may have led the youngsters successfully in a few assignments abroad and done well in the Premier Hockey League, but Azlan Shah meet is the biggest opportunity the docile coach has ever got and how he rises up to the occasion will be interesting to watch.
Bansal will, however, have the privilege of seeking valuable inputs from Australian great Ric Charlesworth, who is serving as the Technical Advisor-cum-Expert Coach with Indian hockey.
After their opening encounter with the Kiwis, India will meet Argentina (May 9), Canada (May 11), Belgium (May 12), Pakistan (May 15) and Malaysia (May 17).