Northamptonshire 183 for 4 (White 58*) beat Durham 147 for 6 (Stokes 51* Daggett 1-13) by 36 runs

Had anyone suggested before the start of this season that Northamptonshire would have been among the teams lining up for Friends Life t20 Finals Day, you have been forgiven for suggesting they lie in a darkened room swathed in wet towels.

Heading into this campaign, Northants had won just three of their last 27 T20s dating back to their quarter-final defeat in 2010. They had only reached Finals Day once before, in 2009, and they finished the 2012 season with fewer wins in all competitions than any county in the land. With no trophies since 1992 and no full England players since Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar left, it appeared they were sliding towards irrelevance.

They're not any more. Energised by a dynamic chief executive - former Warwickshire batsman and Leicestershire CEO David Smith - a calm and wise coach - David Ripley - and a change in captaincy - Alex Wakely is the white ball captain; Stephen Peters the red ball - Northants no longer appear an also-ran in a tired ground, but a vibrant, forward-thinking club with a bright future. Not only are they in the second promotion position in Division Two of the County Championship, 37 points ahead of the third placed side, but they have reached Finals Day for just the second time in the 11-year history of the competition.

Just as importantly, they have started to contribute to England again. Ben Duckett was given dispensation to play in this game rather than captain England Under-19s against Pakistan, while Olly Stone, a seamer who was left out of this XI, captained the same Under-19 side last winter. 23-year-old David Willey, who thumped 46 and delivered four overs brimming with skill and commitment, is also a product of the club's system and looks almost guaranteed to win an England Lions spot before the summer is out.

They have recruited well, too. Azharullah, a 29-year-old Pakistani plucked from the Yorkshire leagues last winter, has proved an inspired addition and, having agreed a one-year deal last year, has recently been offered a two-year extension and is of interest to other counties, while Steven Crook, at last fulfilling his substantial potential in a sympathetic environment, might well be the signing of the summer.

Success is not limited to the pitch. This game attracted Northants' largest crowd - 5,200 - since the T20 quarter-final against Hampshire in 2009 and is expected to earn the club over £100,000 in unbudgeted revenue. They expect to have made £25,000 just on food and bar takings; not all of it from the Northampton Saints rugby players who were among the crowd. Over the last year, the club have bought the freehold to their ground, refurbished facilities and developed some of the best outdoor net facilities in the country. It is no surprise that international teams are starting to use the club as one of their bases while on tour in England.

But here they were grateful for the contribution of Australian overseas player Cameron White who put this game beyond Durham with a blistering unbeaten innings of 58 from 32 balls. White, who has been surplus to demands in all formats for Australia since the World T20 last October, thrashed four fours and four sixes, including three in an over off the unfortunate Gareth Breese, to help his side to the 11th highest score in their T20 history.

White's impetus helped Northants plunder 133 from their final 12 overs and 79 from the final six, taking toll of some loose Durham bowling. But the platform for his assault was provided in an opening stand of 89 in 68 balls from Willey and Kyle Coetzer that saw off the tidy but not terribly threatening Graham Onions, who bowled his four overs in one spell at the start of the game.

"It's scary when the ball is hitting the bottom of the bat and still clearing the ropes," Paul Collingwood, the Durham captain, said afterwards. "But we didn't get the execution of our skills right."

Ben Stokes was perhaps the most disappointing of the Durham attack, straying in line and length and conceding 40 from his four-over spell. The decision to introduce Scott Borthwick's legspin into the attack in the 18th over also proved costly as he was taken for 18 runs. The defeat means Durham have lost three successive T20 quarter-finals stretching back to 2009.

They would have required the second highest total they have ever managed in a T20 away from home to win this game and rarely threatened to get close. Crook bowled with pace and variation, Willey with swing and control and Lee Daggett with superb control that saw him concede just 13 from his four overs.

Only when Stokes was in full flow did Durham look to have a chance. Hitting the ball unusually hard, he allowed no margin for width or any error in length. One over from Azharullah cost 19, another from Willey 14, as Stokes provided a more than passable impression of Lance Klusener at his best.

But in the end Stokes lacked support and Durham had asked too much of him. Coming to the crease with 111 required from 49 balls was always likely to prove too steep a task.

"We were embarrassing last year," a delighted Wakely admitted afterwards. "Our own fans were laughing at us and no-one was coming to watch us.

"There's no secret to what we've done. We went back to working on basic skills as batsmen and bowlers and all the hard work has paid off. Everyone is playing with a smile on their face and really enjoying their cricket."

After several years of drifting, Northants cricket is at last progressing once again.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo