Evans and Rawlins back up Sussex's spinners to secure Finals Day berth
Ben Stokes gave Durham a flying start but when he departed the Sussex attack took charge
Sussex 144 for 5 (Evans 63*, Rawlins 42) beat Durham 140 for 7 by five wickets
If timing is everything, then maybe Sussex have theirs just right going into the meaningful part of the season. Hard on the heels of Division Two leaders Warwickshire in the race for promotion in the Championship after four wins off the reel, they have repeated the sequence in the Vitality Blast.
Having finished their South Group programme with three straight victories to slip deftly into a quarter-final place, they put a dent in Durham's revival with a fourth in a row to give themselves a chance of finishing Jason Gillespie's first season as coach with a trophy.
Ben Stokes, unexpectedly, was given the green light to play for Durham, despite the injury to his left knee, although not as a bowler. Desperate to make a meaningful contribution in only his fifth appearance for his county this year, he was sent in at the top but fell for 34 off 24 balls, albeit unluckily.
It might be unwise to bet against Sussex. Certainly, it is difficult to think of a team with a bowling attack better suited to this format than theirs, whether the requirement is for raw pace or canny spinners. The full range of their skills were in evidence here.
They make a slightly less compelling case with the bat although, that said, Laurie Evans is probably playing as consistently well as he has done in this format and in the 20-year-old Bermudan Delray Rawlins they clearly have a young batsman with an exciting future.
Rawlins, in only his seventh appearance in T20, made 42 from 34 balls in an innings full of swagger. In a low-scoring match in which no batsman managed to clear the Riverside's long boundaries, his partnership with Evans, adding 70 for the third wicket between the fourth over and the 13th, made victory for his side a formality in the end, Evans sticking around to get the job done with an unbeaten 66.
Durham punished pace on to the bat at the start, but Chris Jordan took heed and Jofra Archer and Tymal Mills followed suit by reining themselves in. Will Beer and Danny Briggs, both highly accomplished slow bowlers in T20, brought all their experience to bear in the middle overs and squeezed the life out of what had been a highly promising start by the home side, who had chosen to bat first.
There was no doubt about the turning point of the night, early in the piece though it was. Durham had made the perfect start. They were 42 without loss in three overs, 62 for 1 at the end of the Powerplay. Stokes had been in his element, going hard at everything and making the pace work in his favour. Four of his six boundaries came in Archer's first over.
But Sussex had seen success with virtually the first slower ball of the innings when Jordan had Graham Clark caught off a top edge and when Beer, who has had to be patient in the competition this year with Rashid Khan occupying the legspinner's berth, entered the game immediately the field dropped back he snared the key wicket with the last ball of his first over.
Becoming impatient after 10 balls without adding to a boundary count of six in his first 13, Stokes went to reverse sweep but missed and was hit squarely in front. Umpire David Millns raised the finger, and although the replays showed that the ball pitched a fraction outside the line, Durham should still have built better on the start the England allrounder had given them.
Beer and Briggs bowled superbly, conceding only one boundary between them as Durham went 10 overs without getting a single shot across the rope. Stuart Poynter's 28 off 24 balls pushed the total up to 140 with some solid blows at the death but that was never likely to be enough, even for a side used to defending small totals.
Indeed, with no Imran Tahir or James Weighell, missing with a broken hand, they were down two of their three leading wicket-takers. Mark Wood, in only his third appearance in this summer's competition, removed Luke Wright early on and forced a misjudgment from Rawlins when the youngster, who had played some wonderful shots, allowed his cockiness to get the better of him. But it was not enough.
Evans played with measured authority, taking the anchor role to allow Rawlins his head, their partnership putting Sussex in an unstoppable position, taking the lead thereafter in what turned into a relative canter into the last four, with five wickets and 10 balls to spare.